By Army Medical CommandSeptember 22, 2011
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sept. 21, 2011 -- A Soldier who recently returned from Afghanistan died from rabies last month after contracting the disease from a feral dog while deployed.
The Army has initiated an investigation to ensure that other service members who may have been exposed to rabies are identified and receive preventive treatment, if needed.
The Army Medical Department, along with the Department of Defense, other uniformed services and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working together to expeditiously identify, evaluate and treat any service members, DOD civilians and contractors who may have been exposed to rabies while deployed.
Individuals who have already been identified as being exposed to the disease while deployed are currently receiving evaluation and treatment.
The importance of receiving appropriate medical evaluation following contact with a feral/stray animal cannot be overstated, medical authorities said. Rabies may not show any signs or symptoms in the infected animal until late in the disease, often just days before its death. The animal can, however, still spread the deadly virus while appearing completely normal.
The rabies virus is transmitted to humans by the saliva of infected animals through bite wounds, contact with mucous membranes or broken skin. Humans can become infected and harbor the virus for weeks to months, and in extremely rare cases, years, before becoming ill. During this incubation period, which averages between one and three months, rabies can be prevented with appropriate treatment, including a series of vaccinations.
Once symptoms occur, however, death is almost always certain, according to medical authorities.
All personnel redeploying since March -- including active or reserve-component service members, as well as those recently discharged from military service; DOD civilians, and contractors -- who have had contact with a feral/stray animal while deployed, should be immediately evaluated by medical personnel. Army Medicine and the DOD are committed to ensuring that anyone who believes they may have been exposed while deployed is provided with appropriate medical evaluation and care, officials said.
Even if no symptoms are readily apparent, everyone redeploying after March 2010 is asked to seek medical attention if they may have been exposed. Friends and families of those returning from a deployment are asked to help, officials said.
The Wounded Warrior & Family Hotline can be called at 1-800-984-8523 (Stateside DSN: 421-3700 or Overseas DSN: 312-421-3700) for information on obtaining a medical evaluation and, if necessary, treatment.
More rabies information can be obtained by visiting: www.cdc.gov/rabies or http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/aid/Pages/Rabies.aspx.