The National Animal Health Services of Costa Rica (SENASA) recently reported four cases of bovine paralytic rabies in Alajuela, a province in northern Costa Rica. Authorities responded by quarantining the farm and vaccinating the 96 cattle and five horses housed there.

This is the second outbreak of bovine paralytic rabies in northern Costa Rica in recent months. A previous outbreak in September claimed the lives of 2 cows and resulted in the vaccination of 500 others.

Rabies is a viral disease that can affect all mammals. Rabies in cattle has been well documented throughout South America where it is spread by the bite of vampire bats.

There are two different clinical presentations of rabies: the paralytic or “dumb” version and the furious form that more often affects dogs or cats. In the paralytic form, the animal experiences progressive paralysis, resulting in an inability to swallow, uncontrollable drooling, and eventual death by respiratory failure (usually within two to six days). Cattle are rarely affected by the furious form.

Bovine rabies is also a threat to human health because, like all mammals, they can spread rabies to humans. The incubation period in cattle can range from 25 days to more than five months.
During this time, the animal may be shedding virus and thus able to spread the disease, putting cattle farmers at significant risk of exposure through daily interaction with seemingly healthy cattle.

Rabies can be prevented in domesticated animals through vaccination and an effective cattle vaccine exists. With the quick control measures enacted by SENASA, the disease will hopefully be contained in the region.

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