Rabies and Vector-borne Diseases


Rabies is a virus that attacks the nervous system. It spreads in the wild animal population often without notice. Humans are exposed to it when rabid animals come into contact with people or their pets. Only six people in the world ever have been known to survive rabies so prevention and treatment immediately after exposure is extremely important. Wilkes County Health Department works with Wilkes County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Wilkes to prevent the spread of rabies through rabies vaccination clinics; public education; investigating animal bites; testing and investigation of unvaccinated animals, and population control of unwanted animals. The Humane Society of Wilkes has financial assistance for spaying and neutering pets as well as a website of animals that need homes.

There are ways to protect yourself, your family, pets and community from rabies:  

  • Keep wild animals out of your home by securely fitting doors and windows, covering chimneys with screens and closing any holes in foundations, porches, basements and attics.
  • Stay away from strays and other people’s pets (that may be unvaccinated).
  • Keep your pet or animals confined to your property. Letting your pets run loose allows them to track down wild or rabid animals.
  • Keep trash and pet food in animal-proof containers. Do not attract wild (and possibly rabid) animals by leaving your pet’s uneaten food outside, or by leaving food out for wild animals.
  • Get your animals vaccinated against rabies by a professional and save the certificates. Do not try to vaccinate your own pets.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to avoid unwanted animals.
  • Finally, take all animal bites and scratches seriously. Call someone qualified to make a decision about you or your pet’s risk for rabies.
  • If you need to capture an animal because it has bitten a person or pet, contact Wilkes County Animal Shelter. The head/ brain must be undamaged and kept under refrigeration for laboratory examination, so don’t shoot it in the head. Animal Control has better methods and training for capturing or destroying possibly rabid animals.

North Carolina Rabies Data, Maps, and Other Information:
Introduction to Rabies

Vector-borne Diseases

Billions of people around the world, including Americans, are at risk from viruses and bacteria transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other vectors.  The most widely known vector-borne diseases in the U. S. are West Nile virus, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Dengue virus, a major health problem in Puerto Rico, infects as many as 400 million worldwide each year, some fatally. As rapid global travel and changing land use increase, the risk of rare or new vector-borne pathogens to emerge and cross borders also increases. For example, West Nile virus, which was unknown in the U. S. before 1999, infected 5,674 Americans in 2012.

Vector-borne diseases are especially difficult to predict, prevent or control.  Only a few have vaccines.  Mosquitoes and ticks are notoriously difficult to reach and often develop resistance to insecticides.  Adding to the complexity, almost all vector-borne pathogens are zoonoses, meaning they can live in animals as well as in humans.

Vector-borne diseases are among the most complex of all infectious diseases to prevent and control. Not only is it difficult to predict the habits of mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, but most vector-borne viruses or bacteria infect animals as well as humans. West Nile virus (WNV), which is primarily a disease of birds, is a good example.

Vector-borne diseases are major public health concern. Lyme Disease causes over 300,000 estimated human illnesses annually in the U.S. Tick-borne rickettsial diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, are responsible for over 4,000 U.S. cases each year, including some that result in death. Dengue fever causes millions of cases worldwide, including thousands of cases in Puerto Rico each year. DVBD uses information about the number of cases, and when and where they occur, to aid health departments and other partners to reduce cases, save lives, reduce suffering, and reduce the financial impact to the public.

We also cover less common, but often deadly threats. Yersinia pestis causes the ancient disease plague. Focal plague outbreaks occur in the southwestern U.S., and it is a significant health threat in Africa and Asia. We work with public health officials in Uganda to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention—learning lessons that could help us respond to natural and bioterrorist uses of plague.