News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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World Rabies Day is September 28
Vaccine shortage underscores need to prevent rabies exposure

(September 25, 2008) Avoiding contact with wild animals is the most important step to take to avoid exposure to rabies and it is crucial during the current rabies vaccine shortage. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention, rabies vaccine should be reserved for post-exposure prophylaxis only.

World Rabies Day is an excellent opportunity to remind the public to prevent rabies, a disease that is nearly always fatal once symptoms begin, by avoiding contact with wild animals, says Joshua Meyerson, MD, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.

“If you or a member of your family has had contact with a wild animal, especially a bat, first collect it and then call your local Health Department office”, said he said. “Our staff can determine if the contact is considered an exposure to rabies. If it is, we’ll need the animal to test it. Without the animal, we have to assume it is infected. Anyone exposed should begin a series of injections of rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from developing.”

The supply of rabies vaccine is in short supply because one of the two companies that produces it, Sanofi Pasteur, is renovating its vaccine-production facility to meet the most current requirements of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Sanofi Pasteur estimates the facility will be operating by late 2009.

Supply of the flu vaccine is not affected by the shortage of rabies vaccine.

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals (including humans), that attacks the nervous system and is virtually always fatal if untreated. In Michigan, bats are the animal most often found to be infected with rabies. Rabies is spread when an animal or human is bitten by an infected animal, or if an infected animal’s saliva comes in contact with broken skin or mucus membranes (such as eyes, nose and mouth).

People often will know when they have been bitten by a bat, but their small teeth may not leave easily identifiable marks. Potential exposure also exists when a bat is discovered in the same room as someone sleeping or an unattended child.

Meyerson said you can reduce your risk for contracting rabies by—

World Rabies Day, observed on September 28 each year, is a global initiative to raise awareness about the continuing burden of rabies and how the disease can be prevented. The campaign brings together thousands of individuals from health experts to everyday people for a unified show of support of anti-rabies efforts. World Rabies Day advocates for the health of the total population (human and animal), through a “One Medicine” approach and is the only worldwide event of its kind focused on global rabies control and prevention.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information, contact your local Health Department office or visit