13 November 2012


"When you put [a deep love for animals] and [science fiction] together - reality and fantasy, animals and monsters - you can't get much closer than rabies."  Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies unit at the CDC

Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy's Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus  is FASCINATING.

First, until the end of the 19th century, getting bit by a rabid dog was a death sentence until Louis Pasteur himself developed rabies vaccine.  It was very dangerous for him and his team to develop (the researchers actually had to keep rabid dogs in cages in order to sample their saliva for the virus they needed to work with).  It was a miracle cure.  It also led to the development of other vaccines for viruses, including whooping cough, diptheria, and the flu shot.

Second, much of the classic horror tales of the 19th century, have, somewhere in their pedigree, echoes of the fear of rabies within them.  Before the widespread acceptance of germ theory, people believed that a mad dog bite passed onto the human victim the dog's madness.
In his book Knowing Fear, the horror scholar Jason Colavito charts the nineteenth-century rise in literature of what he calls "biological horror," featuring fully corporeal malefactors that "embody in their beings the struggle of humanity to re-imagine its relationship with the animal kingdom and the natural world."  Thus the emergence of the monster, the no-man man, "a bizarre liminal creature poised somewhere on the continuum between man and beast." (Rabies, p. 105).
Madness was contagious in the thinking of the Victorian era.  Think Frankenstein's monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker's Dracula, the madwoman in the tower in Jane Eyre, the vicious dogs in Wuthering Heights.  In the 1980s and 90s we feared AIDS; today we fear the zombie apocalypse (Madness caused by bath salts? Actually, it wasn't, but it was the first thing we considered, huh?).

Third, even to this day, there is NO CURE for rabies once an animal or person exhibits symptoms.  That's right, if you are exposed to rabies, and you don't get the series of rabies shots you need to stay well (and no, they aren't given in your stomach), you will get sick and if you don't die, you will have life-long, severe neurological damage.  One person is known to have survived symptomatic rabies in 2004, through an experimental treatment called the Milwaukee Protocol... but really, you don't want to go there.... get the shots.

Fourth, today we may have many disagreements about health care, about parents who do or do not vaccinate, but we would not likely DENY children of any socio-economic level a simple life-saving measure.  In 1885, four children in New Jersey were bitten by rabid dogs.  Pasteur had already successfully treated rabies patients on the Continent.  However, it took a Newark physician's public plea to raise enough money to send these working-class children to France for treatment:
If the parents be poor, I appeal to the medical profession and to the humane of all classes to help send these poor children where there is almost a certainty of prevention and cure [France].  Let us prove to the world that we are intelligent enough to appreciate the advance of science, and liberal and humane enough to help those who cannot help themselves. (Rabies, p. 142) 
How sad that nearly 130 years later, we are still wrestling with access to health care for all.

Rabies remains with us; tens of thousands of people die of it every year in developing countries.  Even in the United States, and even though we are legally required to vaccinate our dogs, not everyone does. It is still spread by mammals, especially small ones, and MOST especially bats!

Pet dogs test positive for rabies in Maine

Raccoon attacks dog in Bath, Maine; third confirmed case there in 2012

A rabies vaccine - a great gift for your pet!

The CDC recommends STRONGLY that if you wake up and there is a bat in your home, or if you find a bat in the room of a child or an infirm person, consider that person EXPOSED to rabies, and seek treatment promptly.

Rabies vaccine is affordable and available for pets.  Does Fido need his shots?  Here's a handy list: Upcoming Rabies Vaccination Clinics for Pets  Then, head over to the Town or City Hall and get that dog license.  In my city, it's $6.00, and it's due each January.  It protects me, my neighbors, and my dog.  As the city clerk said to me one year as I was renewing his license, "It's the best Christmas present anyone can get their dog."

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