By Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP

I am off to Africa this week.   After a short time at home following my Mongolian Gobi desert trip, I am heading to Zambia.  Last year `I accompanied my dear friend as she travelled to Zambia to teach at the International School.  While I was there, I met a veterinarian and spent a week riding along on her calls.  I will join up with Dr. Allison again this year and am excited to see what adventures await me!

My favorite story from last year ™s trip involved a case of rabies.  While Allison and I were out working with horses one day, two young boys wandered into the clinic area without their parent ™s knowledge.  They snuck into the kennels and were playing with a young puppy.  One of the boys was bitten on the finger and luckily told one of the kennel attendants who washed his hand and sent him on his way.  Two days later the puppy started showing signs of rabies.  I have never seen a case of rabies in the states.  My brain went immediately to diagnostics.  In the US we would euthanize the dog and test its brain to confirm the diagnosis.  There are no facilities for that in Zambia and there was no doubt in Allison ™s mind – this was rabies and we had to find this child or he would die.

We knew this was a white child and therefore could narrow down the possibilities of where he went to school.  A letter was sent to every principal, but we heard nothing.  The child had 7 days to start preventive vaccines.  After a few days of no word, Allison and I drove to every school and talked to the principals.  I was talking about the story every night at dinner with the teachers from the school where my friend was working.  Finally, on Friday (the sixth day!), we found the boy in the school where we were working!  He had not told his parents about the bite.  He got his vaccines in time.

Few Americans think about rabies.  In fact, most people see rabies vaccination and licensing of pets as an intrusion from our government.  I am certainly no proponent of over-vaccination, but I do believe that vaccines for horrible diseases like rabies are one of the greatest medical advances ever.  Over 50,000 people die of rabies every year.  The vast majority of these people are infected by the bite of an unvaccinated dog.  I hope to see broader use of the vaccine during this trip to Zambia.  Keep an eye on this site for an update from my trip when I return!