This blog was created for Niles Animal Hospital & Bird Medical Center by Peter S. Sakas DVM in an effort to provide information & discussion about animal related issues. It may move into some eccentric directions on occasion if the mood strikes me as I get more comfortable in this form of communication. I am open to suggestions & comments about the blog. Also view our hospital website www.nilesanimalhospital.com or Facebook page Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Why Rabies Scares Us
Interesting post I came across on the AVMA Pet Health SmartBrief about rabies. Sadly, people still die from rabies as it is a deadly virus. Precautions must be taken to prevent exposure and spread.
Why Rabies Scares Us: PW Talks with Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
By Gabe Habash Jul 13, 2012
Husband and wife writers Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy deconstruct one of the most fearsome viruses ever known in Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus. Wasik and Murphy tell us what scares us about rabies and how it has worked its way into our culture.
Take us back to the origin
of rabies. How did humans interact with the virus way back when? How
did we behave when first encountering the virus?
We've had rabies for as long as we've had civilization. References
to it survive in Sumerian texts dating back thousands of
years—astrological explanations of it, incantations against it, the
number of shekels you had to pay if your dog got it and killed someone.
Even though genetic research indicates that rabies probably began in
bats, it's always been associated with dogs. Indeed, it's always
represented the dark side of the dog, the evil that lurks within man's
supposed best friend.
Explain what happens to a body infected by rabies.
When a rabid animal bites a human, the virus infects the nerves at
the site of the wound, then travels slowly up the nervous system toward
the brain. If the victim gets vaccinated before the virus reaches its
destination, the infection will be cleared with no symptoms. But once
the virus reaches the brain, it's too late. Flu-like symptoms soon give
way to high fevers, convulsions. Victims become disoriented, distressed,
and sometimes violently aggressive. Often they have difficulty
swallowing, which gives rise to a phenomenon called "hydrophobia," where
they become physically repulsed at the sight of fluids. Eventually the
virus shuts down the essential functions of the brain, and the patient
dies of suffocation or heart failure. It's a truly terrible way to go.
How has our fear of rabies manifested itself in our culture?
It's a cultural link that you can find as far back as the Iliad.
"Lyssa," the Greek term for rabies, is used by Homer and other ancient
authors to denote a wild, animal rage. Indeed, the word "rage" itself
derives from the French word for rabies, and that similarly starts to
show up in medieval times as a literary metaphor for violent hate.
Since the 19th century, rabies has appeared more explicitly in
literature, usually as a horrifying subplot—think about the rabid dog in
To Kill a Mockingbird, or the death of Tea Cake in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
By the 1970s and 1980s, there was a small market for rabies horror
novels, both in England (where rabies was eradicated in 1902, but fear
of imported disease persists) and in the United States (remember Cujo)?
How does the history of rabies compare to other "killer" viruses? How is it different?
Rabies always been relatively rare compared to other killer
viruses. Even before there was a rabies vaccine, people died far more
rarely from rabies than they did from smallpox, measles, and even
influenza. (Not to mention from bacteria like cholera and tuberculosis,
or from parasites like malaria.)
But in terms of
popular fear, rabies has always loomed extremely large. This has been
true in part because rabies was, and with rare exception remains, 100
percent fatal—the highest case-fatality rate of any known
disease—and because it's such a terrible way to die. But it's also
because rabies spreads observably from animals, and, perhaps more
important, the symptoms themselves are animal-like in their mad fury.
There's something intrinsically creepy about rabies. Part of why
Louis Pasteur decided to develop the first modern human vaccine against
rabies, instead of some other illness, is that it created so much
hysteria in the general public.
Why are we at a stalemate with rabies?
rabies isn't a huge killer of people, it doesn't rate as highly as other
diseases in the budgets of philanthropic foundations or public-health
agencies, even in countries (mostly in Asia and Africa) where death from
rabies is still a significant problem. What seems to many people like
an easy way to reduce rabies—massacring the animals that spread it—turns
out to be ineffective and even counterproductive, since the population
of feral (unvaccinated) animals will just rebound to fill the vacuum.
Instead, what reduces rabies is mass vaccination campaigns for
animals, dogs in particular. But such campaigns require sustained
political will, which is hard to muster in countries where other health
problems seem more urgent.