Redeploying Reserve Component Soldiers screened for rabies
In Afghanistan, Soldiers come into contact with feral animals frequently. Upon redployment, First Army Division East screens all reserve-component Soldiers for the rabies virus.

FORT MEADE, Md. (April 30, 2012) -- Spc. Kevin Shumaker, 24, a cook for the 615th Military Police Company, died tragically on Aug. 31, 2011, from wounds he received while deployed to Afghanistan. His injury didn't come from a bullet wound or shrapnel from an improvised explosive device, or from a mortar attack. In truth his injury didn't come from a battle at all. His injuries came from a dog.

When Shumaker was bitten by a rabid dog in Afghanistan and died, he became the first Soldier to die from rabies since 1967. His death and the sheer number of feral animals Soldiers come in contact with in Afghanistan prompted the Army to add rabies screening to their demobilization screening process.

"Rabies is a serious infection of the nervous system and is caused by a virus," said First Army Division East Clinical Operations Officer Capt. Akil Rahman. "It's transmitted through contact with the saliva of infected or rabid warm-blooded animals, such as dogs, cats, bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, mongooses and jackals."

Although encounters with rabid animals are rare, Shumaker proved they do occur. The Army directed 100 percent screening to minimize the risk of deployed Soldiers returning from theater with the rabies virus.

"The death of this Soldier is very tragic, and we are taking actions to ensure something like this does not happen again," Lt. Col. Steven Cersovsky, director of epidemiology and disease surveillance at the Army's Public Health Command, said in news release.

"In the aftermath of the Soldier's death, we [First Army Division East] were directed to screen 100 percent of our Soldiers," said Rahman. "We published an order and had brigades conduct and report the screening results. Army Medical Command is now mandating 100 percent documentation of every Soldier readiness processing encounter in the Department of Defense electronic health record."

As part of the screening, individuals who meet the following criteria are advised to report for a medical evaluation as soon as possible:

• Those who had a possible animal exposure that occurred after March 1, 2010. A possible animal exposure is a bite or contact with the saliva of warm-blooded animals such as dogs, cats, bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons and jackals.

• Those who had no medical evaluation or incomplete/undocumented evaluation or an incomplete series of rabies shots following an exposure incident. Individuals who are not 100 percent confident they received appropriate and completely documented care should be evaluated.

"Soldiers don't have to be bitten to get rabies. If Soldiers have an open wound and come into contact with a rabid animal's saliva, they can contract the disease," explained Rahman. "It is important that Soldiers identify all contact with animals in theater."

Additionally, First Army Division East provides Soldiers preparing to deploy information on preventing rabies during medial threat briefings.

According to the U.S. Army Public Health Command, humans can carry the virus for weeks, and occasionally, years before showing symptoms. The incubation period averages one to three months.

However, "once the signs and symptoms of rabies develop, the disease is almost always fatal," stated Cersovsky on the public health command web site.

One myth about rabies that the Army's Public Health Command website dispels is that animals with rabies will always be foaming at the mouth and rabid or overly aggressive. Infected animals may not always look or act strangely.

Although rabies is a fatal disease, it is preventable. It is also very rare in the United States, due to an active vaccination program for pets. The vast majority of rabies cases in the United States each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. In developing countries, however, the vast majority of human rabies cases are the result of bites from rabid dogs.

"The best treatment is prevention and post-exposure prophylaxis, which includes thorough cleansing of the wound as soon as possible, timely completion of a vaccine series and administration of human rabies immunoglobulin," said Rahman.

For more information on rabies and how to prevent the disease, visit: U.S. Army Public Health Command, http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/aid/Pages/Rabies.aspx.

First Army Division East, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md., mobilizes, trains, validates, deploys and demobilizes Reserve Component troops. The division demobilized almost 27,000 service members in support of overseas contingency operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, at three mobilization training centers across the eastern United States in 2011.

Page last updated Mon April 30th, 2012 at 00:00