The dog rabies variant has disappeared almost completely in the United States, but rabies in wildlife has dramatically increased, and each wildlife species carries its own rabies variant(s). Concurrent rabies epizootics include: raccoon rabies along the Eastern seaboard, skunk rabies in the central states and California, Arctic fox rabies in Alaska, and red and gray fox rabies in the southwestern states. In addition, bat rabies is endemic in the 48 contiguous states. While dogs are the natural host, cats are currently the domestic animals most frequently reported rabid in the United States and are predominantly affected by the variant of virus endemic to the region in which they reside. Rabies has also been reported in other domestic small animals, such as ferrets and rabbits. Rapid and accurate laboratory diagnosis for animal rabies is important for diagnostic confirmation, epidemiology, and the initiation of appropriate measures if human exposure has occurred. Diagnostic methods used include direct fluorescent antibody assay, direct rapid immunohistochemistry testing, virus isolation, reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, histopathology and immunohistochemistry on brain tissues, and detection of rabies virus-specific antibodies. The key to preventing rabies in small animals and rabies transmission to human beings is routine vaccination.

COMMENTARY: It was a victory for public health when canine rabies was declared eliminated from the United States in 2007. This victory was accomplished, in no small part, by the implementation of dog vaccination and licensing, and stray dog control. However, as this article points out, we need to remain vigilant and not decrease vaccination of dogs. Although dog-to-dog rabies transmission has been eliminated, dogs and cats can still be infected with many wildlife variants. Rabies is a 100% fatal disease, but is preventable with vaccination.

Rabies in small animals. Lackay SN, Kuang Y, Fu ZF. Vet Clin Small Anim 38:851-861, 2008.