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Sisk: Vaccines safe, effective for animals
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Recently, I received an email with some questions about a specific disease and the vaccines intended to prevent the malady. Hopefully, all of you will get something out of the answers.

Rabies is a famous disease. You’ve heard of it. You probably have pets vaccinated against it.

If you’re like me, you were emotionally scarred by a movie about it as a child. But “Old Yeller” wasn’t vaccinated. At the time of the movie’s setting, the vaccine wasn’t available. Thus, pets died of rabies, and sometimes people did the same.

Luckily for us, the vaccine is widely available now. Or it is in developed societies at least. In the third world, rabies is still a killer of thousands of animals and humans.

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain. The virus leaves characteristic lesions in specific areas of the brain. The brain is connected to the rest of the body via nerves, and the virus can migrate down the nerve cells and eventually reach the salivary glands. Once in these glands, the virus can be shed into the saliva, with the classic mode of transmission being achieved through an animal bite.

Once a human or animal is bitten, the virus ascends nerve cells to reach the brain and the cycle begins again.

To achieve a definitive diagnosis, veterinarians must take samples of the brain. Thus, the head may be removed post-mortem if an animal is a suspected carrier.

Rabies became famous because it is as close to 100 percent fatal as any disease gets. Extremely rare cases of survival following intense, months-long treatment in humans have occurred, but horrible neurological deficits remain despite survival. These cases are rare. So rare, you have a better chance at being a member of the Beatles.

But our vaccines are very effective and important, as they protect not just your pet, but your family.

Rabid pets don’t retain loyalty, and they will bite and spread the disease. Exposure from a friendly source is still exposure.

So keep your pets vaccinated. It’s safe and effective. And in most areas, it’s the law.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at