Animal Alert! The Importance of a Rabies Vaccination There's nothing like summer camp. Those of you who have attended this special rite-of-passage, you understand the warmth of which I speak of it. The early morning trumpet blast through the camp-wide speakers, the days of row boating, canoeing and swimming, and the magical quest of frog hunting all combine to create the best memories of this child's life. In the woods of my youth there were wild animals-raccoons and bears. A rabies vaccination was always one hike away. The overnight camping trip-which took us campers away from the main camp grounds and into the dense woodlands-was one of my favorite things about the summer camp experience. During the night you would hear all sorts of critters scratching against your tent. Everyone-including the counselors- were frightened during these late-night encounters with the denizens of the dark. I must have heard a million times: "You'll catch rabies! Then you'll have to have twenty five needles in your stomach!" It was a nightmare scenario played out under the stars which only a vaccination could have protected me from. I am happy to report that the boast of twenty five needles in your stomach as the cure for rabies was merely an old wives tale. Yet the horrible myth was not far from the truth. There were shots to be had in the abdomen if you became infected with rabies. But it was never twenty five. These days the vaccination for rabies consists of a series of up to nine shots over a three or four week period. And they are administered in the arm! Whew... What exactly is rabies? Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of mammals- including humans-that causes swelling of the brain. If left untreated it can cause death. How can I catch them? Rabies is usually caught by the bite or scratch of an infected animal. This can be a wild raccoon at summer camp or a wayward doggie traversing your neighborhood looking for a kind soul to pop open a can of dog food. All people exposed to new animals-especially animals in the wild-need to be extra cautious. This happens because once the animal is infected with the rabies virus it makes its way to the saliva as it journeys to the brain to begin its deadly potential. Once the saliva is infected it can be passed to any other animal that the infected one bites or scratches. If bitten or scratched, a vaccination is the only way to protect against getting sick. How do you know if an animal has rabies? Well, first the animal's personality will change dramatically very quickly. Of course, this is only evident in an animal (such as a pet) that you have the ability to watch over a period of time. If it is a wild animal, look out for frothing of the mouth, wild and wobbly walking, and an aggression atypical of the species. What happens to humans once they are infected? The human symptoms of rabies can show up in as little as two weeks. But they may not arise until a full year has passed! Once infected humans will show signs of a fever, get a sore throat and stiff muscles. They also commonly will suffer from headache, exhaustion, nausea, and itching at the site of the bite or scratch. Remember, individuals who have received a vaccination for rabies vaccination for rabies will be protected from all of this.