Imported Animals and the Risk of Rabies

Last edit was made on: June 25th, 2021

Disclaimer: None of the 33 animals from this group of recently imported animals have been seen by the Lombard Veterinary Hospital Team. This article’s sole purpose is to provide you with updated information when we receive it from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Safety or the AVMA.

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This article was written in response to the June 10th, 2021 report of the 34 pets (33 dogs and one cat) entering the United States through O’Hare Airport from Azerbaijan, as one of the dogs in the group tested positive for rabies in Pennsylvania. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a multi-state public health investigation after at least 12 people were exposed to the rabid dog imported from overseas. The location of the other imported pets has not been released. The United States eliminated rabies in domestic dogs back in 2007 thanks to widespread vaccination, and other preventive measures. However, the virus is still present in wildlife such as foxes, raccoons, bats, and skunks. Most states have public tracking of positive rabies cases in these species, due to the serious risk to human health.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection that attacks the nervous system of most mammals, including humans. Once infected, the virus causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The transmission of rabies is almost always by the bite of an infected animal. It can also be transmitted if infected saliva meets an open wound. Rabies has an incubation period that can be difficult to track. It can range anywhere from 21 to 80 days. However, it can also be as short as just a few hours before signs start to show. Some common signs of rabies include behavioral changes such as nervousness, extreme excitability, and even loss of appetite. Infected hosts can also become more aggressive, and this can lead to the classic “mad dog syndrome,” including excessive teeth showing and extreme irritability.

Another kind can be "dumb rabies," or the paralytic form, which is when the infected host loses control of the jaw and throat muscles, causing excess salivation and the inability to swallow. This is when the "foaming at the mouth" occurs that is most widely associated with rabies. Dr. Emily Pieracci of the CDC recently spoke to NPR on this topic. She stated that rabies is still one of the most deadly diseases globally. Roughly 59,000 people die from this disease every year - that is about one death every nine minutes. Unfortunately, rabies is nearly always fatal when the infected host starts showing symptoms.

Here is the whole NPR interview with Dr. Pieracci, listen below. 

As stated above, the United States eliminated rabies in domestic dogs back in 2007. With the high demands of people who want to rescue dogs, many shelters and groups started to import animals from overseas, such as Azerbaijan, where rabies is not eliminated. In fact, Azerbaijan has a strain of rabies that is not found in the United States. Dr. Douglas Kratt, President of the American Veterinary Medical Association said, "If a new strain of rabies were to be introduced into the United States, it's just a matter of where it will spread and how fast it will spread." That is why, on June 14th, the CDC placed a ban on 113 countries from allowing animals to be imported to the United States. This ban is going into effect on July 14th, 2021, and will be in place for a year, when it will be reevaluated.

What Should You Do?

If you've recently adopted a dog or cat within the past month, it is best for you to contact the place of adoption and ask if your pet was imported from overseas. If you are looking to adopt a pet, do thorough research on the organization and where they source their adoptable animals. It is always vital to have your recently adopted pet examined by your trusted veterinarian and to keep all your dogs and cats current on their rabies vaccination. Almost all states require rabies vaccines in pets, including the State of Illinois. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions about your newly adopted pet or about rabies in general. If you’d like to schedule an appointment for your pet click here.

Illinois Department of Public Health Update:

(June 24th, 2021)

“We want to thank the veterinarians in the state who have given us information on the dogs from Azerbaijan and have assisted in getting 13 of the 14 dogs staying in Illinois into their clinics for rabies vaccination and serology. We would not have been able to respond appropriately without the assistance of the veterinary community. The dogs that stayed in Illinois are in Chicago (5), Cook County, not Chicago (2), Lake County (3), Kane County (2), Champaign County (1) and Mclean County (1). The dogs are to be quarantined at home (except for vet visits) for 45 days until July 25th. The serology results may indicate whether the quarantine will have to be extended. We have had one owner bitten by their new dog so we are hopeful that will be the only bite and that all dogs stay healthy and rabies free. Some veterinarians have seen dogs imported from Azerbaijan prior to June 10th. The information that is gained from the serologic testing on this group of dogs will help determine what should be done with previous shipments of dogs.”

Centers for Disease Control Update:

(June 24th, 2021)

“In 2020, CDC intervened in more than 450 dog importations related to irregularities with rabies vaccination certificates. Several dogs from the imported shipment were transported to other US locations. CDC is coordinating with health officials from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, California, New Jersey, NYC, and Illinois, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to respond to this case. Other animals in the importation shipment are still being located, and CDC is assisting health officials to identify other people or animals that may have had contact with the infected dog to determine if post-exposure prophylaxis is needed.”

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on June 23rd, 2021 - there have been updates made available to us by the below groups. Last edit was made on June 25th, 2021This is an ongoing investigation. This article will be updated when we, Lombard Veterinary Hospital, receive more information from the Illinois Department of Public Health & Safety and the AVMA.


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