Having a pet can be a wonderful experience for kids and families. I loved growing up with a series of cats and dogs, and my older brother also had an enormous Habitrail full of gerbils. I wouldn’t trade away any of these memories! During all those years, I often was scratched up from playing with my pets, but not once did we ever worry about rabies. It’s simply not something we have to deal with in America, as almost all pets are properly vaccinated against this deadly disease. In America, less than a handful die each year from rabies, and most cases are from bats or other wildlife.
But the situation in China is very different and much more serious. Each year, over 3,000 people in China die from the rabies virus, the vast majority from dog bites. And children by far are the most vulnerable population, as they love to play with animals, and many wouldn’t even mention a slight bite or scratch to their parents.
That’s why it’s crucial for expat families to seriously think about getting the 3-shot rabies vaccine series now, for all of their children, before they get exposed. The vaccine protects them from the 100% fatality rate of this all-to-common disease in China. The vaccination rate among expat families is quite low, but rabies is common in the Beijing area among both stray and pet dogs. And those who feel “protected” in your Shunyi communities need to know that expats have died of rabies in China. In one sad case, an expat husband and father died 10 months after buying a harmless-appearing puppy from their local pound. He didn’t even report ever being bitten by their pet, and most likely got infected from playful licking and innocuous-appearing scratches. Please don’t let this happen to you or your loved ones! Rabies is 100% fatal, there is no cure, and it’s a painful and slow death.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also mentions some helpful tips to share with your kids to prevent pet bites, especially dogs:
- Socialize your pet. Gradually expose your puppy to a variety of people and other animals so it feels at ease in these situations; continue this exposure as your dog gets older.
- Train your dog. Commands can build a bond of obedience and trust between the dog and owner. Avoid aggressive games with your dog.
- Vaccinate your dog against rabies and other diseases.
- Neuter or spay your dog. These dogs are less likely to bite.
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
- Teach your child to ask a dog owner for permission before petting any dog.
- Let a strange dog sniff you or your child before touching it, and pet it gently, avoiding the face and tail.
- Never bother a dog if it is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
- Do not run past a dog.
- If a dog threatens you, remain calm. Avoid eye contact. Stand still or back away slowly until the dog leaves. If you are knocked down, curl into a ball and protectyour face with your arms and fists.
Rabies is a serious issue but definitely not the most common pet-related problem I see. I often treat serious skin infections from bacteria such as staph, especially in the hands, from pet bites and scratches. In almost all cases, the cuts were from typical playful fun with their own pet. The #1 treatment in all cases of bites and scratches is immediate washing out with soap and water!