Rabies

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Overview

Rabies causes viral encephalitis which kills up to 70,000 people/year worldwide. Infected animal saliva transmits viral encephalitis to humans. Rabies is one of the oldest known diseases in history with cases dating back to 4000 years ago. For most of human history, a bite from a rabid animal was uniformly fatal. In the past, people were so scared of rabies that after being bitten by a potentially rabid animal, many would commit suicide. Pasteur's rabies vaccine from 1885 has led to such intense prophylaxis in developed countries, that in the United States, for example, there have only been about two rabies deaths per year for the past two decades; less developed countries are not so lucky.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu and may last for days.

Later signs and symptoms may include:

Fever

Headache

Nausea

Vomiting

Agitation

Anxiety

Confusion

Hyperactivity

Difficulty swallowing

Excessive salivation

Fear brought on by attempts to drink fluids because of difficulty swallowing water

Fear brought on by air blown on the face

Hallucinations

Insomnia

Partial paralysis

Causes

The rabies virus causes a rabies infection. The virus spreads through the saliva of infected animals. Infected animals can spread the virus by biting another animal or a person.

In rare cases, rabies can be spread when infected saliva gets into an open wound or the mucous membranes, such as the mouth or eyes. This could happen if an infected animal licked an open cut on your skin.

Animals that can transmit the rabies virus

Any mammal (an animal that suckles its young) can spread the rabies virus. The animals most likely to spread the rabies virus to people include:

Pets and farm animals

Cats

Cows

Dogs

Ferrets

Goats

Horses

Wild animals

Bats

Beavers

Coyotes

Foxes

Monkeys

Raccoons

Skunks

Woodchucks

In very rare cases, the virus has been spread to tissue and organ transplant recipients from an infected organ.

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 populated by bats

living in a rural area where there’s greater exposure to wild animals and little or no access to vaccines and preventive therapy

traveling to developing countries

frequent camping and exposure to wild animals

being under the age of 15 years old (rabies is most common in this age group)

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Complications

Rabies is a preventable disease. There are simple measures you can take to help keep you from catching rabies:

Get a rabies 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.

Prevention

Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies as required by law. ...

Keep dogs and cats under control. ...

Leave stray or unknown dogs and cats alone. ...

Leave wild animals alone. ...

Do not keep wild animals as pets. ...

Make your property unattractive to wild animals.