Images of things we have seen in our past have a way of lingering for a long time. Many, if not all, remain somewhere in our brains, ready to return to our awareness in a split second. I’ve been thankful through the years for one such image I encountered one day at the Auburn University Veterinary School.
Our professor warned us that day about a film he was about to show. He told us we were free to leave the room if we wanted to because what was about to appear on the screen had some very disturbing content. I’m glad I stayed to watch the images displayed by that old reel-to-reel projector. The story that was told by those black and white frames as they passed in front of the light turned out to be a profound element of my education.
I enjoyed learning facts about zoonosis ( a disease that can be spread from animals to humans ) and epidemiology ( the study of patterns, causes, and effects of diseases in defined populations). But I could never have understood their importance had I left the room that day. At the time, I was at least two years from graduation, but I also gained an unexpected appreciation for what my role in public health would be as a practicing veterinarian. And, that experience kept me always mindful of how critical it was to administer every vaccine properly so as to ensure animals in my care developed the strongest immunity possible.
This Sunday, September 28, 2014, is World Rabies Awareness Day. And, the film I watched back in vet school was of a person suffering from rabies. Nowadays you can watch that on YouTube anytime you want. Personally, I don’t want to or need to see it again.
Over 50,000 people die every year from rabies. According to the World Health Organization, most of those deaths occur in Africa and Asia. The majority are the result of bites from dogs, and 40% are children under the age of 15. In the US, the number is 3 or fewer deaths per year. Vaccination of pets given by veterinarians is what makes the difference in those numbers. Never underestimate or take for granted the value of rabies vaccinations. If we were to stop vaccinating pets, rabies would return with a vengeance.