Rabies is a viral disease that can be contracted by humans via other mammals. By attacking the central nervous system, rabies causes brain swelling and a variety of different symptoms, including seizures, psychosis and fear of water. In almost all cases, rabid humans or animals die a short time after contracting the virus if treatment is not started before symptoms appear. More detailed information about rabies is provided below including the ways it is transmitted, the symptoms it produces, the treatments available and the prevention strategies people can use to avoid the disease.
The rabies virus is usually transmitted to humans through bites or scratches from affected animals, whose saliva contains the virus. The psychosis associated with rabies infection often drives the host to attack other animals and humans. Although many people are exposed to rabies through their pets, infections have also resulted from contact with wild animals such as foxes, coyotes, skunks, bats, and raccoons. Rarely, people have contracted rabies from butchering the raw meat of rabid animals and having open wounds exposed to infected nervous system tissues. More information about the rabies virus can be found on the CDC website.
Rabies Virus Symptoms
Symptoms of the rabies virus can take days or weeks to emerge depending on how much of the virus has been transmitted. In the area around the bite itching and pricking sensations may develop quickly. In humans, flu-like symptoms can begin to present between two and 12 weeks after infection. However, individuals have also developed symptoms as soon as four days after infection or as late as six years afterwards. General malaise, fever, weakness and headache are common during the acute phase of rabies and may last for a few days to a week and a half. Classic symptoms of rabies such as agitation, insomnia, seizures, hydrophobia, hallucinations and paralysis, can begin to develop. Death due to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest follows within days for the vast majority of infected individuals who have progressed past the acute phase and who have not sought proper medical attention.
Rabies Virus Treatment
Treatment for rabies must begin before symptoms appear for survival to be likely. When humans are believed to have been exposed to the rabies virus, they are given wound care and other post-infection treatment to stop the virus from progressing. To prevent bacterial infection in the wound, health care professionals may irrigate the wound and administer iodine or other antibacterial solutions. Thorough wound cleaning can also reduce chances that the rabies virus will cause severe illness. A number of rabies shots, usually one injection of rabies immune globulin and four injections of rabies vaccine, is used to interrupt the incubation period before acute rabies symptoms develop. When bite victims have already been vaccinated for rabies before being bitten, they are generally given just two
doses of the vaccine and none of the immune globulin afterwards. Injections are commonly made near the bite wound and in the upper arm.
People can reduce their risk of being exposed to rabies by taking certain precautions. For example, pet owners should vaccinate their pets and keep them from running wild outside, where they might be in contact with rabid wild animals. Pet owners should also watch for any behavioral changes in their pets that might signal rabies infection. When people see stray animals, they should contact their local animal control agency. People should avoid wild animals, which may not always display obvious signs of rabies infection. Dead animals, which can still harbor rabies, should also be avoided. To keep rabid bats out of the living area, homeowners should seal gaps on their outer walls that might provide entry.