A Message from the Vet - June 2010
Rabies-Free Hawaii

Summer is here and families are enjoying a break from school. During this time you may be traveling and it's important to plan accordingly. Hawaii is one of the few locations world-wide considered rabies-free. The state of Hawaii has put in place important regulations to ensure that we remain a rabies-free state.

Rabies is a virus that can infect all mammalian species. The most common wildlife affected are raccoons, bats, coyotes, skunks, and foxes. The virus can cause neurologic signs, aggression, hydrophobia (fear of water), and vomiting, among other clinical symptoms, eventually leading to death. By the time symptoms begin, rabies is nearly impossible to treat, and death usually occurs within 10 days. Every year, several humans and hundreds of infected animals are reported.

The most common means of contracting rabies comes via saliva through a bite from an infected animal. After infection, it may take anywhere from 2-8 weeks for the animal to show signs of illness. The virus makes its way from the initial wound to the brain through nerve cells. Once in nervous tissue, the virus is not susceptible to the immune system's defense mechanisms.

Thankfully, this disease can be prevented with a highly effective vaccine. This is why it is important for animals traveling to Hawaii to be current on their rabies vaccinations and blood tested to verify a sufficient amount of antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are proteins made by the body in order to fight infections. Once adequately vaccinated against rabies, the body forms specific antibodies to fight future rabies infections.

Just as there are specific requirements for animal traveling into Hawaii, there are also prerequisites for resident animals traveling to and from the mainland. If you are interested in traveling to the mainland you can find these requirements online from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

In addition to preparations for travel, it is important to report any suspected cases of rabies to the Department of Health or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Prompt reporting gives the best opportunity for appropriate protocols to be followed in confirming an infection and preventing possible rabies exposure to humans.

While our state's requirements involve a bit more planning for travel, it is well worth it to live in a place free from this deadly disease, isn't it? So have a fun summer and keep your family safe and your pets vaccinated. For more information regarding international travel please contact our clinic.

Candice Denham, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.