When I had my yearly physical this year my physician was not surprised when I asked her to test me for rabies. Since I’ve been her patient, eight years now, she’s taken a few extra cc`s of my blood every year to determine my rabies antibody levels. This test lets me know if my rabies vaccine, which I received about fifteen years ago (in a series of three painless shots), still offers me protection against the disease.

Although we administer the rabies vaccine to dogs and cats at one to five-year intervals to prevent disease, most people are shocked to learn that preventative vaccines are available for humans, as well. Even human physicians  (in Miami, at least) are surprised to know how rigorously some veterinarians maintain their rabies antibody levels with pre-exposure vaccinations.

And why not? After all, as vets, we interface so frequently with animals of unknown vaccination status it seems stupid to forego protection against a virus that kills almost as often as it infects. Getting vaccinated before I’m exposed reduces my chances of infection dramatically.

Vaccination, however, is not without its risks. One of my vet school classmates, in fact, developed Lupus soon after her series of vaccines. We’ll never know if the vaccine wasn’t somehow responsible for this serious immune system disorder. For this, and for other reasons (financial, I suspect—it’s very expensive), rabies vaccines are not commonly administered to humans.

And vaccination is not foolproof. After exposure to unvaccinated animals (via bites or following any contact with a rabies positive animal), vaccinated vets still need post-exposure shots to mitigate the still-real risk of infection.

Just this week a kitten adopted from a PetSmart store was determined to have rabies. One case was found in nearby Ft. Lauderdale this month. And, not too long ago, a child’s client was bitten by a seizuring kitten he’d found. This case was proved inconclusive for rabies by the local Health Department’s personnel. The child received post-exposure vaccines.

Rabies is too deadly to dismiss, too horrific to even contemplate contracting. Until we can eradicate it from our wildlife populations I’ll keep getting myself vaccinated and tested. If you work with stray pets, you, too, should consider joining the ranks of the vaccinated.