Nature Bulletin No. 719 May 25, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist
On October 29, 1959, a girl fell from her bicycle in an Evanston alley
and probably was bitten by a bat lying on the ground. Fortunately the
bat was taken to the state public health laboratory where it was found
to be infected with rabies. The girl was promptly given the Pasteur
treatment which protected her against possible infection by that
Since then -- over three and one-half years later -- there has been no
other case of rabies in animals reported from Cook County. This is in
sharp contrast with the rabies outbreak of a decade ago when in one
year 123 cases were found among dogs. Of those, 75 were in Chicago.
At the same time several cases were reported in cats, cows, wild foxes
and skunks. An emergency quarantine of dogs, their compulsory
vaccination against rabies, and a cleanup of strays was so effective that
only five cases were found in Cook County in 1955 and a single one in
The complete eradication of rabies in England has become a classic in
medical history. Following an epidemic of the disease in 1897, the
muzzling of all dogs in infected areas was made compulsory until the
disease disappeared. There has been no death from rabies in England
since 1902. A six-month quarantine on all imported dogs prevents its
re-entry. Since then, several other western European countries,
Australia and Hawaii have proved that rabies can be wiped out. Only
two cases of human rabies were found in the United States in 1962.
Rabies, or hydrophobia, is one of the most dreaded diseases because of
the extreme suffering of the animal or person afflicted. Also because it
always ends in death. All warm-blooded animals are susceptible but it
is spread most commonly by dogs because of their biting habits and
their close association with other animals and with men.
The disease is caused by a virus which is transmitted through the
saliva when an infected animal bites. From the wound the infection
slowly follows the nerves to the spinal cord and the brain. The
symptoms of the disease may appear as early as two weeks or as late as
The behavior of rabid dogs may be either the "furious" or the "dumb"
types. The former starts with a change in disposition followed for a
few days by an excitable or furious stage when the animal snaps at
anything in its path. Unless confined it may travel as much as twenty
miles in a day. The voice is hoarse and cracked. The end comes with
convulsions and paralysis. A dog with the dumb type neither barks nor
bites because the lower jaw, tongue and throat soon are paralyzed.
Weak and depressed, it tries to crawl into a cool dark place to die.
Wild animals with rabies may behave in either the furious or dumb
manner. It is safest not to approach or handle animals found in the
out-of-doors when they do not show the usual tendency to avoid
human beings. Leave them alone.
Rabies is one of the oldest known contagious diseases of man and
animals. Aristotle described it in 300 B.C., saying, "Dogs suffer from
madness. It throws them into a state of fury, and all animals which are
bitten are also attacked with madness. " Over the ages many attempts
were made to cure this fearsome malady. Among them was the use of
"mad stones" from the intestines of deer and goats.
The first effective treatment was discovered in the 1880's by the great
French scientist, Louis Pasteur. He repeatedly injected a weakened
form of the virus into persons bitten by a rabid animal thus building up
a resistance before the disease developed. This weakened virus was
produced by drying the spinal cords of infected animals. Much the
same method is still in use although the virus is sometimes taken from
incubating chicken and duck eggs.
Rabies is one of nature's ways to curb overpopulation.
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Update: June 2012