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Attitudes towards rabies in southern Texas: a need for public education

  • Author(s): Kresta, Amy E.
  • Henke, Scott E.
  • et al.
Abstract

An epidemic of canine rabies transmitted by coyotes (Canis latrans) began in 1988 along the Texas-Mexico border. The disease spread rapidly throughout southern Texas and resulted in two human deaths and >2,000 rabies exposures in which prophylactic treatment was required. To combat this epidemic, the Texas Department of Health conducted an oral vaccination program that targeted free-ranging coyotes and offered free immunization of pets. However, the latter program met with resistance from the public. We hypothesized that the general public lacked knowledge as to the seriousness and spread of rabies, which resulted in their apathy for taking precautionary measures. To test our hypothesis, we surveyed adult residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas to assess their knowledge of rabies and to determine their reasons for lack of compliance with the pet vaccination law. We approached 560 adults (i.e., >21 years old) and asked them to take an oral questionnaire concerning their knowledge of rabies; response rate was 40% (223 out of 560). Mean score of respondents was 59% of the maximum possible score. Adults lacked general knowledge of rabies transmission and mortality. Although the majority (89%) of respondents knew that it was unlawful to own unvaccinated dogs and cats against rabies, only 23% (n=52) claimed to vaccinate their pets. Of those who responded that they regularly vaccinate their pets, 50% did it to promote pet health and the remaining 50% of respondents admitted to being fearful of repercussions if they did not obey the law. Reasons for not vaccinating pets included laziness (n=46, 27%), liability of claiming pet ownership (n=31, 18%), cost (n=29, 17%), lack of law enforcement concerning unvaccinated pets (n=26, 15%), unaware of rabies epidemic in area (n= 19, 11%), "dime-a-dozen" attitude [i.e., can always get another pet] (n=l5, 9%), and governmental conspiracy to locate illegal aliens in the United States (n=5, 3%). Educational programs are needed in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas to increase the general public’s awareness and knowledge of rabies.

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