Rabies Challenge Fund Studies are in Year Four

Progress is being made in the quest to reduce the frequency of legally required rabies vaccinations, but contributions are needed.

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Rabies is nearly always fatal to the animals (including humans) who become infected with the disease. That’s why vaccinating our dogs against this deadly virus is required by state law – in order to protect public health, by preventing transmission of this disease from infected wildlife to our pets and to us. Each states requires that dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies every one, two, or three years.

Over the past few decades, it’s become increasingly clear that modern rabies vaccines reliably convey immunity from rabies for longer periods than their labels guarantee. It’s also become evident that some dogs suffer from adverse effects of rabies vaccination. Rabies vaccines can trigger both immediate and delayed adverse vaccine reactions. Documented reactions include:

Behavior changes such as aggression and separation anxiety
Obsessive behavior, self-mutilation, tail-chewing
Pica (eating wood, stones, earth, stool)
Destructive behavior, shredding bedding
Seizures, epilepsy
Fibrosarcomas at injection site
Autoimmune diseases such as those affecting bone marrow and blood cells, joints, eyes, skin, kidney, liver, bowel, and central nervous system
Muscular weakness and/or atrophy
Chronic digestive problems

These reactions are all good reasons to reduce the frequency of rabies vaccinations as much as possible, while continuing to vaccinate dogs frequently enough to protect them from contracting rabies if exposed. Which begs the question: what is that ideal frequency of administration for the rabies vaccine?

There is lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that modern rabies vaccines convey protection in most dogs for far longer than their labels suggest. However, public health officials need the results of formal “challenge studies” (in which vaccinated animals are exposed to the live rabies virus) before they can responsibly recommend reducing the frequency of rabies vaccination in their states.

That’s where the Rabies Challenge Fund comes in. After her dog Meadow developed a malignant mast cell tumor directly on his rabies vaccination site (the syringe hole still visible in the tumor center), Kris L. Christine of Maine began researching rabies vaccines. Eventually, she established the Fund in order to conduct the studies needed to prove that the vaccine confers a longer duration of immunity than previously shown. She enlisted the support of canine vaccine experts such as W. Jean Dodds, DVM, (a co-trustee of the Fund), and Ronald D. Schultz, PhD, professor and chair of the Pathobiological Sciences department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, who designed and is conducting the studies. 

So, who is paying for this research? Animal lovers, that’s who. “Because the USDA does not require vaccine manufacturers to provide long-term duration of immunity studies documenting maximum effectiveness when licensing their products, concerned dog owners have contributed the money to fund this research themselves,” says Christine. “We want to ensure that rabies immunization laws are based upon independent, long-term scientific data.”

The Rabies Challenge Fund studies are in their fourth of seven planned years. Annual budget goals of $150,000 must be met to complete this work, which will benefit all dogs by, it’s hoped, proving that rabies vaccines may be given as infrequently as five to seven years with full efficacy. Donations to this 501(c)(3) Fund are tax-deductible. – Nancy Kerns

For more information
Rabies Challenge Fund
(714) 891-2022; rabieschallengefund.org

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