An option too painful to consider

Published 1:08 pm Sunday, June 9, 2019

Many people remember the scene from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” when actor Gregory Peck, as Atticus Finch, shoots a rabid dog from an impossible distance. It’s a memorable scene, and it’s still relatable today, 57 years later.

Rabies is a danger. So are people who don’t have their pets vaccinated for the virus.

What does the average person know about rabies? Not much, likely; probably just that it’s bad; it’s fatal to humans and to unvaccinated animals. Maybe they know that rabies shots are painful, but they don’t know why they’re painful.

Perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. You may have the nicest pet in the world: old Rover wouldn’t harm a flea. But that’s not necessarily true, regardless of Rover’s winning personality. All animals, under the right circumstances, can be aggressive — especially if they’re scared. So, even if a pet owner would never dream their Rover would bite a person, it happens. And it happens pretty regularly.

So what happens if an unvaccinated animal bites a person? Unfortunately, that animal is taken away and put under quarantine for 10 days so animal control staff can monitor whether Rover has rabies. It takes seven to 10 days for rabies to kill an unvaccinated animal, so a 10-day quarantine will tell you definitively one way or the other.

What happens to the person Rover bit? They can wait it out: if Rover doesn’t have rabies, then neither will they.

However, if Rover decides to go on a walk-about, unbeknownst to his owners, and somehow finds himself in a situation where he bites someone — because he was scared or confused — then Rover makes his way back home, what happens to the person Rover bit?

Nothing good.

If a person is bit by an animal they don’t know and animal control cannot find, then medical staff has to assume that animal has rabies. They have to. While the chances the bitten person will contract rabies are microscopic, the disease is always fatal — always.

A rabies vaccine is the first order of business, but it doesn’t stop there. Treatment is not confined to the rabies vaccine. That’s actually the least of it. The painful part of treatment actually has to do with immunoglobulin. Human rabies immunoglobulin contains antibodies that will fight off the rabies virus until a rabies vaccine kicks in and a body can produce those antibodies on its own. The reason these shots are so painful is because they are injected directly into any puncture wounds from a bite. If there are four puncture wounds, that’s four needles shooting a vial of antibodies into open wounds.

Yes, that’s quite painful — much more so than the two follow-up rabies vaccines over the next two weeks.

But even needles embedded into puncture wounds may be less painful than the bill. For the uninsured, a trip to the emergency room, consisting of cleaning the wounds, rabies vaccine, tetanus vaccine if needed, and immunoglobulin shots recently cost one North Carolina woman $22,000.

Get your Rovers vaccinated. Any other option is too painful — physically and financially for neighbors and strangers alike — to consider.