How much do you actually know about rabies? For myself, the answer is… Not a lot! I know that dogs need rabies shots, and that it is something that humans (and other animals) want to avoid contracting. September 28th is World Rabies Day—a great day to learn about staying healthy from this preventable disease.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a disease that affects mammals. It is most often transmitted by the bite of an animal that has rabies (or “is rabid”). Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system, ultimately, the brain becomes affected by the virus, which is deadly [1
What are the symptoms of rabies?
Whether in humans or other animals, rabies symptoms are much the same. Often acted out in cartoons, the symptoms are dramatic and not too far off of their fictional representations. The symptoms of rabies include:
- General discomfort
- Anxiety, confusion, agitation
- Extreme excitement
- Movement difficulties, including partial paralysis
- Difficulty swallowing
- Increase in salivation (saliva production)
- Fear of water
Death usually occurs within days of symptom onset if not treated. If a person is bitten by either an animal or human who may have rabies, emergency medical attention should be sought immediately—rabies symptoms may not onset for 3-8 weeks. though they may occur earlier or as late as 7 years following a bite [2
Humans are not often exposed to rabies, as most areas require pets to be vaccinated against rabies, preventing the spread of the disease. This is why rabies vaccines are not routinely given, despite their safety and low risk of side-effects. For instance, individuals who work with wildlife, or are traveling to a high-risk area, could be considered high-risk for contracting rabies [4
If a bite occurs, either by a pet or wild animal (or a wild animal scratches), visit an emergency department or call your family doctor for treatment as soon as possible. A vaccination can be given to those who have been exposed to rabies, or those who are at high risk of rabies. Re-vaccination may occur if a second bite or exposure is experienced [3
]. The wound should be cleaned with soap and water immediately, and vaccination should occur as soon as possible [3
]. Each vaccine has a different schedule required, so be mindful to stick very closely to your doctors instructions to receive the benefit of this vaccine. Notify animal services or wildlife services (such as a parks board or conservation office), and provide as much information as possible about the location, animal’s description, and what occurred. [4
] Dogs, cats and ferrets are most likely to be infected by rabies, and should be monitored for symptoms (usually in the home environment).
In animals, the symptoms of rabies are: [4
- Unusual tameness or friendliness of wild animals; loss of fear of humans
- Depression or hiding in isolated areas
- Paralysis or abnormal muscle movement, specifically in the face
- Extreme excitement or aggression; biting at their own legs; attacking objects or other animals
- Frothing at the mouth
It is important to be mindful around any animal that you don’t know well, and be aware of these symptoms in case you encounter any animals that may be affected. For pet owners of animals that are regularly outside unsupervised, or who have been lost, any bites or scratches should be cause for concern, and a veterinarian should be consulted.