Rabies – A Rapidly Fatal Disease

Rabies is a viral disease caused by a bite from an infected animal. The infection causes brain swelling leading to death if not treated. According to the World Health Organization, 55,000 people die because of rabies each year. Rabies is worldwide and is present in all continents except in Antarctica. More than 95% of all rabies deaths are from Asia and Africa. Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms begin to manifest.

Rabies is called a zoonotic disease. This means that the disease is transmitted to humans from animals. Dogs are the source of 99% human rabies deaths around the world. There are also other domestic and wild animals that carry the virus. In the United States and Canada, bats are the leading cause of human rabies deaths. Other animals that can also be affected are cats, cattles, ferrets, wolves, monkeys, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and skunks. Rabies may also spread to domesticated animals, bears, weasels and groundhogs. Any warm blooded animal may become infected by this disease with a high prevalence of the mentioned animals above.

The virus is usually present in the nerves and saliva of an infected animal. The infected saliva can be transmitted to humans usually through a bite. The virus enters the blood stream and travels to the peripheral nervous system. It will then travel to the nerves reaching the central nervous system. No manifestation of symptoms happens during this phase but once it reaches the brain, it will quickly cause encephalitis. When patients become symptomatic, treatment is almost never effective in 99% of most cases. Aside from brain swelling, rabies can also cause inflammation of the spine leading to myelitis.

The period between the infection and the first manifestation of symptoms is usually two to twelve weeks, but can be as long as two years. Flu-like symptoms will be experienced first, followed by facial paralysis, insomnia, confusion, agitation, anxiety, terror, paranoia, hallucinations and delirium. In the later stage of the disease, the patient will experience hydrophobia (fear of water), difficulty swallowing and unquenched thirst. Death usually happens two to ten days after the first manifestation of symptoms. Patients usually die due to respiratory arrest.

If a person is bitten by an animal, the best method to treat the disease is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin are administered over a 28 day period. The first dose of rabies immune globulin and vaccine are administered as soon as possible after the bite. This treatment is called post exposure rabies treatment.

There are available rabies vaccines for pets to avoid acquiring the infection. Pet owners need to vaccinate their pets so that even when they are bitten, they are sure they will not be infected with the disease. One also needs to distinguish an animal having the rabies infection. If the animal is acting strange or aggressive even without being provoked or is drooling persistently, one is to suspect that the animal is rabid. Avoid touching stray and wild animals, as much as possible, and stay away from them. If you are bitten by a suspected rabid animal or any animal, seek a professional immediately.

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