Rabies Vaccine for Two Paranoid Westerners

The adventure of the day was getting a rabies vaccine. Yes, that’s right. A rabies vaccine.

The reason I got a rabies vaccine today – because death by rabies is a dumb way to die – is perfectly reasonable. Once you’re bitten by an animal with rabies, and you haven’t been vaccinated or don’t get one asap, you will die a painful death. Rabies has a 100% fatality rate once symptoms appear. It’s not like the flu, where you’ll be mighty sick, and there is a small possibility of death, but you’ll probably be okay. YOU WILL DIE if you get rabies and don’t get the vaccine (if you do get vaccinated, you’ll be fine). Which is why, although this post is titled “Rabies Vaccines for Two Paranoid Westerners”, I don’t actually think I was being all that paranoid. Everyone else probably thought I was crazy.

Now that I’ve made that clear, let me tell you the story of how one very sick cat led to an entire ER ward trying to impress upon two foreigners that cats can’t get rabies and we’ll be fine, all the while we’re insisting on getting the vaccine anyway.

This is Fat Fondi, fondly called Fatso and sometimes Fatty.

He is called Fat Fondi after the fat (and I mean FAT) ginger cat that used to visit 38 Allison Road. He also likes to eat a lot. But poor Fatso has been sick for the past few days, and Anna thought he might have rabies. Internet diagnosis at its best.

We insisted on getting vaccinated for rabies, along with the rest of the house, because the kittens had been scratching and biting for as long as we’ve had them. The response:

“Cats can’t get rabies.” / “You’re overreacting. You’re not going to die.” / “Rabies isn’t a problem in Kurdistan.”

FIRST. Rabies is a viral disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans. Cats are more likely to have rabies than dogs, despite the popular image of drooling, snarling rabies-crazed dogs. Though I think most human deaths from rabies are because of rabid dogs.

SECOND. Yes, we’re probably being overly careful. There is a slim chance that the cats have rabies, and an even smaller chance that we do. But the possibility still existed, and if we get rabies (from cats or other wild animals) and don’t anything about it, WE WILL DIE.

THIRD. Yes, rabies isn’t a problem here just like cholera isn’t a problem. Oh wait. There was that cholera outbreak in Dukan, 40km from here, just last month. No big deal.

After impressing upon our housemates the importance of getting vaccinated – better safe than sorry and all that – we went to the hospital, and received the same response. I understand why at the hospital, because we were in the ER and our fixer-man pulled strings to let us jump the queue, our request for rabies vaccinations wasn’t taken too seriously. The security guard/policeman kept trying to reassure us that he’s played with many cats and gotten many scratches, but is still alive. It was nice of him. The doctor also wanted to see where the cats had scratched us, to determine if we needed a rabies shot. Apparently it’s very expensive and they don’t like giving it out.

Oh, and did I mention Kurdistan has universal healthcare? The quality of care provided may be suspect, but at least it’s free and available to all. 

I get that the doctors had more pressing patients who needed their attention. But it was still very disconcerting to hear from a doctor, that cats can’t get rabies. Um, yes they do. Most mammals can. Even I know that, and anything to do with blood, bodily fluids, and sick people grosses me out. (What I’m trying to say is, I’m not a doctor and even I know that cats get rabies).

And the whole point of getting vaccinations is for precaution, so you don’t get the disease later. Prevention > treatment, yes?! Call me a paranoid Westerner but why not fully appreciate the marvels of modern medicine that allow you to protect yourself from the slimmest of possibilities of a dire death? I wasn’t saying I had been bitten by a rabid cat; I just wanted the rabies vaccine that had been recommended by my NHS doctor in London so in the off-chance that I come into contact with a rabid animal in the future, I can avoid a very painful, certain death.

Is that too much to ask for?

P.S. Fat Fondi doesn’t have rabies; he has an intestinal infection and the poor thing is hanging on by a thread 😦

Also, read this fascinating article: “How Not to Die of Rabies“, which discusses a book titled Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Disease.

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3 responses to “Rabies Vaccine for Two Paranoid Westerners

  1. Hi thanx for writing down and sharing your experiences about kurdistan but the problem here is really huge and the mentality of all doctors/public is very laid back when it comes to health

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