Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Rabies
Nature Bulletin No. 719   May 25, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

RABIES
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 disease.

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 1956.

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 several months.

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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