Mesopotamian codes from before 2,000 B.C. have mentioned about fatal dog bites. The Greek atomist philosopher Democritus from around 420 B.C. traveled across Persia and Egypt wrote about rabies in domestic animals. Aristotle did the same thing a hundred years later. Epizootic of wolf rabies has been known to occur in western Europe in the late 13th century. The first outbreak of dog rabies to leave extensive record happened in Italy in 1708. It did not exist in the Western Hemisphere until dogs caught it in Virginia in 1753.
Louis made the first human vaccination in a nine year old Alsacian boy named Joseph Meister against this disease.
Rabies has been eliminated in many countries through pest control and quarantines. There have been many endemic in various wild animals in Americas and domestic and wild animals throughout Africa and Asia. There is about 30,000 deaths from this disease per year mostly in poor countries. Since 1980, there have only been 20 cases reported in the U.S. of which half were imported. The last non imported human case in California was in 1969 from a bobcat bite.
Dogs actually show two forms of this disease. In what is called "furious rabies" you get the incoherent viciousness that's typical of what people imagine when they think of rabies. "Dumb rabies" results in paralysis.
An outbreak of canine rabies in South Texas has produced more than 500 cases among wild coyotes and pet dogs since 1988. It prompted a $2 million state program to airdorp 850,000 vaccine laced dog biscuits over a 14,400 square mile area. Two human deaths were reported. In the U.S. and Europe, rabies in dogs and cats are controlled by vaccines.
Rabies remains a threat however. In October 1994, 500 people in New Hampshire had to be immunized after possibly being in contact with rabid kittens from a Concord pt shop. The kittins might have been infected by a raccoon before delivery. One kitten died and tested positive. 12 other kittens were killed but tested negative. Such threats are expensive. Since 1980, 832 people have been required to take preventive vaccinations at a cost of $850,000.
There is only one way to determine if an animal is infected or not and that is to kill it and examine its brain.