Saturday is World Rabies Day, a global health observance started in 2007 to raise awareness and enhance rabies prevention worldwide.

Rabies is a deadly disease that all mammals are susceptible to and typically acquired when bitten by an animal that is shedding the virus. Rabies is almost 100 percent fatal, once symptoms appear, causing more than 59,000 human deaths around the world per year. However, rabies in humans is preventable through prompt and appropriate medical care.

Canine rabies, commonly spread between dogs, is the cause of 98 percent of human rabies deaths worldwide -- the vast majority occurring in developing nations. Although, rabies cases in dogs and cats are exceedingly rare in the U.S., pets should be vaccinated them from contracting and spreading rabies.

Pet owners must be diligent
Be sure to take your pets to the veterinarian for their rabies vaccination. This should be done as early as 14 weeks old and repeated again in one year. After completing the first two shot series, veterinarians develop a vaccination plan best suited for your pet.

Members of the military tend to travel more than the general population, often to areas where rabies is endemic. As a result, many Service members have already been vaccinated against rabies -- this is not an excuse to become complacent.

If you are traveling with your pet, ensure they are up-to-date on their rabies vaccination and ensure they have an appropriate health certificate before leaving the U.S. Consult your doctor about your risk of exposure to rabies and how to handle an exposure, if it happens. You can contact the local installation Veterinary Clinic or refer to the USDA website for more information.

Here are some other ways to reduce exposure to rabies:
•Do not feed or handle wildlife. Raccoons, bats and foxes are the major rabies carriers in the U.S.

•If animals show signs of paralysis, excessive drool, or excessive biting, contact the local animal control office.

•Be aware that animals that have not received a rabies vaccination and are in contact with potentially rabid animals may need to be quarantined by the responsible authorities.

•Avoid dogs and cats that are unfamiliar to you. These animals may be in contact with wildlife and can also spread rabies to humans.

•Never touch or pick up dead animals.

Seek medical care if you are bitten
Provide your health professional and animal control a detailed description of when, where, how, and a description of the animal. You may receive a post exposure prophylaxis, which is a series of vaccines. A bite report should be started by your health care provider if you are bitten by an animal that belongs to you or anyone else on base.

Have more questions? Visit the CDC website, search World Rabies Day, or contact your veterinarian.