Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals. Rabies is usually spread through an animal bite. Rabies is a common word which when mentioned brings to mind an enraged animal frothing at the mouth. An encounter with an infected animal can result in a painful, life-threatening condition. According to research done by the World Health Organization shows that up to 59,000 people worldwide die from rabies every year.
99% of them have been bitten by a rabid dog. The availability of vaccines for both animals and humans has led to a steep decline in virus cases in the United States, where there are two to three deaths a year. Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the central nervous system, particularly causing inflammation in the brain.
Domestic dogs, cats, and rabbits, and wild animals, such as skunks, raccoons, and bats, are able to transfer the virus to humans via bites and scratches. The key to fighting the virus is a quick response.
How do people catch rabies?
Animals with rabies transfer the virus to other animals and to people via saliva following a bite or via a scratch. However, any contact with the mucous membranes or an open wound can also spread the virus.
The transmission of this virus is considered to be exclusively from animal to animal and animal to human. While human-to-human transmission of the virus is extremely rare, there have been a handful of cases reported following transplantation of corneas.
For humans who contract rabies, a bite from an unvaccinated dog is by far the most common culprit.
Once a person has been bitten, the virus spreads through their nerves to the brain. It’s important to note that bites or scratches on the head and neck are thought to speed up the brain and spinal cord involvement because of the location of the initial trauma. If you’re bitten on the neck, seek help as soon as possible.
Following a bite, the rabies virus spreads by way of the nerve cells to the brain. Once in the brain, the virus multiplies rapidly. This activity causes severe inflammation of the brain and spinal cord after which the person deteriorates rapidly and dies.
Animals that Can Spread Rabies
Both wild and domesticated animals can spread the rabies virus. The following animals are the main sources of rabies infection in humans:
Rabies Signs and Symptoms
The period between the bite and the onset of symptoms is called the incubation period. It usually takes four to 12 weeks for a person to develop rabies symptoms once they’re infected. However, incubation periods can also range from a few days to six years.
The initial onset of rabies begins with flu-like symptoms, including:
- Muscle weakness
You may also feel burning at the bite site.
As the virus continues to attack the central nervous system, there are two different types of diseases that can develop.
Infected people who develop furiously will be hyperactive and excitable and may display erratic behavior. Other symptoms include:
- Excess salivation
- Problems swallowing
- Fear of water
This form of the virus takes longer to set in, but the effects are just as severe. Infected people slowly become paralyzed, will eventually slip into a coma, and die. According to the World Health OrganizationTrusted Source, 30 percent of rabies cases are paralytic.
Rabies Risk factors
For most people, the risk of contracting rabies is relatively low. However, there are certain situations that may put you at a higher risk. These include:
- Living in an area that is populated by bats
- Traveling to developing countries
- Living in a rural area where there is greater exposure to wild animals and little or no access to vaccines and immunoglobulin preventive therapy
- Frequent camping and exposure to wild animals
- Being under the age of 15 (it is most common in this age group)
Although dogs are responsible for most rabies cases worldwide, bats are the cause of most death in the Americas.
There is no test to detect the early stages of the infection. After the onset of symptoms, a blood or tissue test will help a doctor determine whether you have the disease. If you have been bitten by a wild animal, doctors will typically administer a preventive shot of rabies vaccine to stop the infection before symptoms set in.
Animal control will probably try to find the animal that bit you so that it can be tested for rabies. If the animal isn’t rabid, you can avoid the large round of shots. However, if the animal can’t be found, the safest course of action is to take the preventive shots.
Getting a vaccination as soon as possible after an animal bite is the best way to prevent the infection. Doctors will treat your wound by washing it for at least 15 minutes with soap and water, detergent, or iodine. Then, they’ll give you the immunoglobin and you’ll start the round of injections for the vaccine. This protocol is known as “post-exposure prophylaxis.”
Side Effects of Rabies Treatment
The vaccine and immunoglobulin can very rarely cause some side effects, including:
- Pain, swelling, or itching at the injection site
- Stomach pain
- Muscle aches
This is a preventable disease. There are some simple measures you can take to help keep you from catching the virus:
- Get a vaccination before traveling to developing countries, working closely with animals, or working in a lab handling the rabies virus.
- Vaccinate your pets.
- Keep your pets from roaming outside.
- Report stray animals to animal control.
- Avoid contact with wild animals.
- Prevent bats from entering living spaces or other structures near your home.
You should report any signs of an infected animal to your local animal control or health departments.
Frequently Asked Questions about Rabies
Can you survive rabies?
New research has shown that humans may be able to survive Rabies without vaccination or treatment after all. Even in animals who carry Rabies the virus isn´t completely fatal; 14% of dogs survive. Bats can survive too.
What are the first symptoms of rabies in humans?
The first symptoms of rabies can appear from a few days to more than a year after the bite happens. At first, there’s a tingling, prickling, or itching feeling around the bite area. A person also might have flu-like symptoms such as a fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and tiredness.
What does rabies do to humans?
The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system of the host, and in humans, it can cause a range of debilitating symptoms — including states of anxiety and confusion, partial paralysis, agitation, hallucinations, and, in its final phases, a symptom called “hydrophobia,” or a fear of water.
Why are rabies shots painful?
It will depend on your pain tolerance. During your initial treatment, a health care professional will put human rabies immune globulin in the area where you were bitten. This can be painful and can require quite a bit of medicine being placed in and around the wound site.
Does rabies make humans bark?
Those that develop the paralytic type of rabies without any evidence of excitation or viciousness may recover on rare occasions. Paralysis of the “voice” muscles in rabid dogs may produce a characteristic change in the sound of the bark. Rabies in humans is similar to that in animals.
How did rabies start?
The rabies virus is found in the nervous tissue of infected mammals. As the virus works its way to the brain, it begins to be secreted in the saliva of the animal. People and mammals get rabies when infectious saliva is introduced into the body, usually through a bite from an infected animal.
How quickly does rabies kill you?
The person may also have a fear of water. The symptoms eventually progress to delirium and coma. Death usually occurs 2 to 10 days after the first symptoms. Survival is almost unknown once symptoms have presented, even with intensive care.
What animals Cannot get rabies?
Lots of farm animals like cows and horses are mammals, and so are wild animals like foxes and skunks, raccoons and bats. Birds, snakes, and fish are not mammals, so they can´t get rabies and they can´t give it to you.
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