(KCBS) – We don’t hear all that much about rabies these days, but it’s still a relevant issue for pets and their owners.

“In the United States, only 1 or 2 people die from rabies each year, so we tend to forget about the disease. Worldwide, especially in Asia and Africa, over 55,000 people die from rabies every year,” said Dr. Jack Aldridge, Director of Veterinary Services at the San Francisco SPCA. “It infects the central nervous system, causing brain disease, and almost always eventual, certain death.”

READ MORE: Bay Area Projects to Benefit From U.S. Infrastructure Funding

“Now,” Aldridge continued, “people who die in this country are usually individuals who are not aware that they’ve been exposed and fail to seek medical help, since prompt medical treatment of bite victims will prevent the disease.”

Aldridge attributes the drop in cases in the U.S. to the widespread vaccination of domestic dogs and cats, which helps to keep the disease from infecting humans, since rabies always – and very prominently – exists in wildlife, including here in the Bay Area.

READ MORE: Central Valley Man On Probation For Elder Abuse Arrested In Father's Death

KCBS’ Jeff Reports:

Vaccinating your dog or cat is incredibly important, stressed Aldridge, who pointed out that it’s actually the law in many local cities and counties.

MORE NEWS: UPDATE: San Jose Triple-Stabbing Suspect Fatally Struck On Hwy 85 Identified

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)