Bats Are Biggest Rabies Danger, CDC Says

Each year, public health officials in the United States respond to 175 mass bat exposures, events where more than 10 people are exposed to a potentially rabid bat.

New animal hosts

In many ways, the threat posed by bats is a reflection of successful U.S. policies dealing with rabies, the CDC said.

Before 1960, dog bites caused most cases of rabies in humans. But mass pet vaccination programs and leash laws have significantly reduced rabies in dogs, shifting the main threat to bats and other wildlife.

“Mass dog vaccination programs started in the 1950s and by 2004, these programs had eliminated the type of rabies that normally circulates in dogs,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, said in a Wednesday media briefing.

Dogs represent just 1% of rabid animals reported each year.

“Reducing rabies in dogs is a remarkable achievement of the U.S. public health system, but with this deadly disease still present in thousands of wild animals, it’s important that Americans are aware of the risk,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in the release.

Among all rabid animals detected in the United States, 32% are bats; 28% are raccoons; 21% are skunks; 7% are foxes; and 6% are cats, according to Schuchat.

In fact, since the 1990s, three times more rabid cats have been reported in the United States than rabid dogs, Pieracci said in the briefing.

“Most people in the United States vaccinate their dogs, but oftentimes people don’t vaccinate cats,” she said. “Vaccinating cats is very important in case they have contact with wildlife inside or outside the home.”

Imported cases

Overseas is another matter.

Globally, rabid dogs cause about 98% of the 59,000 human deaths from rabies that occur each year.

In fact, encounters with dogs while traveling overseas are the second-leading cause of rabies cases in Americans, the CDC said.

Imported dogs pose a risk as well. As many as 107,000 dogs a year are imported from countries where canine rabies is common. Since 2015, three rabid dogs are known to have been brought into the United States.


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