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Bats, Cats, and Rats: Get The Facts About Rabies

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Teera interviewed Dr. Erin Yu on the topic of rabies. Dr. Yu is an Assistant Professor in Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology Division of Comparative Medicine and Assistant Director of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Animal Care. ​Dr. Erin Yu explains the viral disease rabies and tells us which animals are more likely to have rabies.

Begin Transcript

Teera Wilkins:          Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Teera Wilkins with Occupational Health Clinic.  Our Wellcast today is on rabies.  I have Dr. Erin Yu here to discuss this topic.  She will explain the viral disease and tell us which animals are more likely to be rabid.  Dr. Yu is a diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine and assistant professor in pathology, microbiology, and immunology, division of comparative medicine, and assistant director of clinical medicine in a division of animal care.  Can you first explain to us what is rabies?

Dr. Erin Yu:             Rabies is a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family.  It is a zoonotic disease which means that it can be transmitted from animals to humans.  It is transmitted by bite wounds and saliva from infected animals and it can be fatal.

Teera Wilkins:          Are there certain animals that are more likely to either have rabies or are prone to having rabies?

Dr. Erin Yu:             Yes.  Actually there are.  In fact, more than 90% of animal cases in the United States reported to the CDC occur in wildlife.  So, the  principle  hosts of rabies are wild carnivores like raccoons, skunks, and foxes and also bats.

Teera Wilkins:          Is there a high risk of domestic pets becoming infected with rabies?

Dr. Erin Yu:             As I said before, the higher risk is definitely in wild animals; however, domestic pets like cats, dogs, and ferrets can become infected with rabies if they are bitten or scratched by an infected wild animal.  If you have unvaccinated pet or pet with expired rabies vaccines that is exposed to a potentially rabid animal, it is recommended that they are euthanized for testing or they are placed in strict quarantine which can last for up to six months.  For these reasons, it is extremely important to make sure that your pets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

Teera Wilkins:          How often does the pet have to have the rabies shot?

Dr. Erin Yu:             Initially, they will get them as a young animal, and then they will receive them a year later, and then depending on the type of vaccine that is used and the locality that you live in and laws and regulations associated with that area, they may be vaccinated either once yearly or every 3 years.

Teera Wilkins:          Once someone has been bitten or scratched by an animal that potentially could have rabies, what precaution should be taken?

Dr. Erin Yu:             If you are scratched or bitten by any animal that could be potentially infected with rabies, you should immediately cleanse the wound with soap and water.  That is one of the best things that you can do to reduce infection.  You should then seek medical attention, and you and your doctor can decide if you are going to need rabies vaccinations, which is known as post-exposure prophylaxis and that is a series of vaccines.  These decisions are going to be made based on the type of the exposure that you had, the animal that you were exposed to, and potentially the vaccine history of that animal and then any laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where your exposure occurred.

Teera Wilkins:          Is it recommended that a human be vaccinated beforehand?

Dr. Erin Yu:             If you work in a profession where you may be exposed routinely to animals that could be infected with rabies, if you are veterinarian or veterinary technician, work with wildlife, or in some kind of research setting where you are working with bats or potentially infected animals, it is advised that you get vaccines prior to that work when you can discuss that with your healthcare provider and your employer and decide if that is the right course of action for you.

Teera Wilkins:          Well, I definitely appreciate you for taking the time in doing this recording with us.

Dr. Erin Yu:             Thank you.

Teera Wilkins:          Thanks for listening.  Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast on the form at the bottom of this page.  If you have any story suggestions, please email us at or you can use the “Contact Us” link on our website at

— end of recording —

Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 in Occupational Health Clinic, Wellcasts and tagged


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