Sonoma County public health officials have launched a campaign to remind residents of the importance of vaccinating pet cats and dogs for rabies and to educate people of the dangers of exposure.
Though rare, rabies is always present in the wild, and if contracted almost always results in death in both pets and humans once disease symptoms have appeared.
"That's why we focus on prevention, and why we're tying to educate people to vaccinate their pets, to admire wildlife from afar and to recognize and act on potential exposures," said Karen Holbrook, Sonoma County's deputy public health officer.
Since 2010, local health officials have documented 15 cases of rabies, 13 of which involved bats. The other two involved a fox and a cat. The numbers are consistent with historic rates for such cases, but the county is hoping to remind people of the seriousness of the disease.
"Without preventive treatment, it's a progressive disease," Holbrook said. "Once symptoms have developed there is no drug or vaccine that will improve the chance for survival."
Holbrook said that there have been only a few human patients that survived rabies once symptoms set in.
Health officials said the first step in keeping rabies at bay is vaccinating pet cats and dogs, which are more likely to encounter wild animals. Low-cost rabies vaccinations are available throughout Sonoma County at clinics provided by VIP PetCare. Visit happypet.com/mobile to find a nearby clinic.
Also, beginning Aug. 22, Sonoma County Animal Care and Control will offer rabies vaccinations as part of its "Love Me Fix Me" spay and neuter mobile clinic. The $30 package also includes a data chip implant for pet security.
By state law, rabies vaccinations are required for all dogs over 4 months old. In Sonoma County, cats older than 4 months are also required to be vaccinated for rabies. Veterinarians are required to report their rabies vaccinations to Sonoma County Animal Care and Control.
The veterinarian requirement helps county officials assess or rule out potential rabies exposures, said Sandra Lupien, a spokeswoman for Animal Care and Control.