Story By: Chanel S. Weaver
U.S. ARMY PUBLIC HEALTH COMMAND
Officials at the U.S. Army Public Health Command have been working aggressively to prevent additional cases of rabies in Army personnel following the death of a Soldier Aug. 31. The Soldier contracted the disease while deployed to Afghanistan. This death was the first documented case of rabies in the Department of Defense since 1967.
"The death of this Soldier is very tragic, and we are taking actions to ensure something like this does not happen again," said Lt. Col. Steven Cersovsky, director of epidemiology and disease surveillance, USAPHC. "Any Soldier, civilian or contractor who has been deployed to an area of the world where rabies is common could be at risk for developing rabies if exposed to a rabid animal. It is critical that those with animal exposures, especially bites, receive immediate medical evaluation."
The USAPHC, in partnership with the U.S. Army Medical Command, the DoD, other uniformed services and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is working to expeditiously identify, evaluate and treat any service members, DoD civilians, retirees and contractors who may have been exposed to rabies while deployed.
Individuals who meet the following criteria are advised to report for a medical evaluation as soon as possible:
• Those who had a possible animal exposure that occurred after March 1, 2010. A possible animal exposure is a bite or contact with the saliva of warm blooded animals, including dogs, cats, bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons and jackals.
• Those who had no medical evaluation, an incomplete or undocumented evaluation or an incomplete series of rabies shots following an exposure incident. Individuals who are not 100-percent confident they received appropriate and completely documented care should be evaluated.
Although rabies is a fatal disease, it is preventable. It also is very rare in the U.S. because of an active vaccination program for pets. The vast majority of rabies cases in the U.S. each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. In developing countries, however, the vast majority of human rabies cases are the result of bites from rabid dogs.
"The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death," Cersovsky said.
But death from rabies is not inevitable if a person receives proper medical care promptly after being bitten by a wild or stray animal.
"If medical treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, nearly all cases of rabies will be prevented," Cersovsky said. "But the best way to prevent rabies is to avoid contact with stray and wild animals."
Soldiers who deploy are educated about how to prevent the disease during routine pre-deployment medical threat briefings.
For more information on rabies and how to prevent the disease, visit the U.S. Army Public Health Command website at http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/aid/Pages/Rabies.aspx, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/rabies or the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline at 1-800-984-8523.