Rabies, a fatal, brain-damaging virus, can infect humans who have come into close contact with an infected animal’s saliva through deep scratches or bites. Luckily, the United States and much of the developed world largely has this issue tackled through vaccinations. Over the course of the last century, routine rabies vaccinations in the U.S. have reduced deaths from the virus from 100 per year to only a handful per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But more than 55,000 people die in other parts of the world each year, with dogs the usual source of infection, according to the World Health Organization.
Most cases of rabies in the United States now come from wildlife rather than pet dogs. Vaccinated dogs, even if attacked by infected wildlife, will not risk developing or passing on the horrific effects of the disease. Signs of rabies progress from flu-like symptoms to hallucinations, sleeplessness, delirium, and other abnormal behavior prior to death. People can be saved if treatment begins soon after infection, before symptoms appear. But once there are symptoms, the only medical treatment available is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible. Thank goodness for an effective vaccine!