Even though rabies infection in humans in the United States is rare (cover story, March 5), it is not a matter of curiosity simply because of its deadliness. In my 13-plus years as a veterinarian, I administered thousands of rabies vaccines; vaccination of domestic animals in the U.S. has been a huge success in the prevention of both pet and human rabies. Because most human rabies infections in the U.S. now come from wild animals, initiatives in preventing rabies in wildlife deserve mention: Here on Cape Cod, a program of distributing oral rabies-vaccine baits along the Cape Cod Canal (which separates Cape Cod from the rest of Massachusetts) was successful from 1994 to 2004 in keeping the Cape free of raccoon rabies.
In 2012, a man who lived near me died of a rabies infection acquired from a bat — the first confirmed human case of rabies in Massachusetts in more than 75 years. (In 1983, a man died of rabies in Waltham, but he was infected by a dog bite while in Africa.) On the one hand, the extremely low rate of human rabies fatalities in my home state is reassuring. On the other hand, since 10 percent of samples from terrestrial wildlife (mostly raccoons, foxes, and skunks) and 4 percent of samples from bats that were sent to the state lab from 1992 to 2013 tested positive for rabies, the potential for human exposure exists. My advice: If bitten by a suspected rabid animal, get treatment immediately! And personally, if it came to that, I would want to try Rodney Willoughby ’77’s protocol — even though it has a low success rate, odds for survival seem better than for any other available alternative.