A Bad Time for Rabies
The news that there's a temporary shortage of human rabies vaccine sends a shiver down my spine.
The shortage, caused by production problems at Sanofi Pasteur and Novartis, the nation's only two licensed suppliers of rabies vaccine, means the existing stock is all we've got until July, when Novartis is expected to be able to put more vaccine on the market. Sanofi Pasteur is in the process of building a new factory, so it won't make more rabies vaccine until mid-to-late 2009.
The current supply is to be administered only to people who have been exposed to rabies. The wildlife-control workers, lab workers, and even veterinarians who typically receive pre-exposure, preventive vaccinations aren't allowed to get those shots until supplies are restored.
This is probably not cause for panic: chances are we'll make it through the summer just fine, rabies-wise. Richard Franka, a microbiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that, based on the past five years' use of rabies vaccine, the existing stock should see us through.
But I'll make a confession here: rabies scares the heck out of me.
Here's why: A few years ago my then-little boy got bit by a dog. The bite barely broke his skin -- but any time an animal bite breaks the skin at all, the specter of rabies arises. It was the beginning of a terrifying ordeal during which we learned that, because the dog's shots weren't up to date, we had to wait out a 10-day period during which the dog was quarantined and watched for signs of rabies. If the dog had rabies, my son would have needed an immediate dose of rabies immune globulin -- which is not currently in short supply -- plus a series of five shots of vaccine over the course of a month to prevent him from developing the deadly disease. After much anguish, we decided to order the costly immune globulin to have on hand if he needed it. Because the insurance company wasn't convinced that was necessary, the money -- several hundred dollars -- came out of our pocket. It was a pittance to pay given the peace of mind it afforded us, of course, but still.
When word came that the dog was healthy and, therefore, so was our son, our pediatrician's office asked if we would sell them half the vaccine we'd bought, because a baby in their care had just had her face badly bitten by a dog. (She was so young, she only needed half the amount my son would have needed.) We were happy that, because we had ordered the stuff just in case, it was there right away when that baby needed it. But the whole episode left us deeply shaken.
Rabies in humans is very rare -- there are only one or two cases a year in the U.S. -- but it's almost always fatal. Encounters with rabid animals have been steadily on the rise in recent years (as this article explains) as land development has forced critters that once lived and died in the woods out into areas occupied by humans.
To avoid rabies, the CDC recommends that you make sure your pets have their rabies shots and that you stay away from wild animals -- and, in fact, any unfamiliar animal. Last year a bunch of people at a softball tournament handled a stray kitten that turned out to have rabies.
I'll let you know when the vaccine supply is restored. Until then, hands off the stray cats, okay?
Posted by: Thomas Hardman | June 9, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Faye Kane | June 9, 2008 7:12 PM | Report abuse
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