What is rabies?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus found in the saliva or a rabid animal. It causes inflammation of the brain. According to Communities Against Rabies Exposure (CARE), rabies cases continue to cause at least 55,000 deaths a year.
Rabies is also called as hydrophobia (fear of water or any liquid), exhibited by the inability to swallow (especially liquid) and a sensation of choking when trying to drink, which is due to the paralysis of the oropharyngeal muscles.
Who is most at risk?
People most at risk of rabies live in rural areas of Africa and Asia, where access to healthcare and animal health facilities is limited, stray dogs are more common, and fewer pets are regularly vaccinated against rabies. Children are at the highest risk of dog rabies; about 30% to 60% of the victims of dog bites are children less than 15 years of age, and children often play with animals and are less likely to report bites or scratches.
In areas known for rabies, persons with frequent exposure to animals (e.g. veterinarians or animal health workers, wildlife specialists or researchers) are also at high risk.
How do you get rabies?
The virus is usually transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. The virus can also be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or onto a mucous membrane such as the eyes, nose, or mouth. Person-person virus transfer may occur when saliva droplets are dispersed in air or upon biting although this rarely happen. Inhalation of rabies virus has been known to occur, but only in very special circumstances, such as a research laboratory.
How long can the rabies virus survive in the environment?
The rabies virus is fragile under most normal conditions. It is destroyed within a few minutes at temperatures greater than 50°C, and survives no more than a few hours at room temperature. The virus is no longer infectious once the material containing the virus is dry. The rabies virus is also easily killed by most common detergents and disinfectants including household bleach, (1/2 cup per one gallon of water).
What animals get rabies?
Only mammals, including people, can get rabies The most common reservoir in the country are dogs, although it could also infect cats, rodents, bats and other warm-blooded animals (domestic and wild).
How do you know if an animal has rabies?
There are 2 forms of rabies illness seen in animals. One is known as the furious form, and animals with this type of rabies can exhibit symptoms such as agitation and increased aggressiveness early on, followed by depression, paralysis, and eventually death. The other type of rabies is called the dumb form, and these animals are lethargic, depressed, and eventually die. Because many illnesses can cause these types of symptoms, rabies can be difficult to diagnose. You cannot always know if an animal has rabies, but if you observe “a pet animal behaving wild or a wild animal behaving tame”, you should consider rabies as a possible cause, and take appropriate precautions.
There is no test of a live animal that can detect the presence of the rabies virus. In order to determine if an animal has rabies, brain tissue must be examined for the presence of characteristic lesions.
Is there any treatment for rabies?
Rabies could be treated if the signs and symptoms of rabies are not yet seen but it is fatal once the signs of infection appear. The most common cause of death is respiratory paralysis.
What should I do if I think I may have been exposed to rabies?
- Clean the wound immediately with soap and water.
- Seek prompt medical attention from a physician or hospital emergency department. Appropriate wound care, including antibiotics, and the need for a tetanus booster will be determined by your health care provider.
- Report the bite to the local health authorities for appropriate follow-up and determination of the need for Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
If you are bitten by a wild animal:
- Try to contain the animal while taking care to prevent additional bites and exposure to saliva.
- Contact the animal control officer or local police for assistance. In the event the animal is euthanized, care should be taken to avoid damage to the brain, which should be submitted to the local rabies laboratory for testing.
- Human treatment to prevent rabies may be started immediately or delayed until the testing results are known.
- If the animal is not available for testing, the decision to start human treatment will be made by the bite victim and his/her physician based on recommendations by the local health department.
If you are bitten by a dog, cat, or other domestic animal:
- Obtain information about the pet including owner’s name, phone, address, description of the animal, and its vaccination status.
- Biting animals should be ordered observed for 10 days by the local health department to ensure that they are free of rabies. If showing signs of rabies, the animal should be euthanized immediately and tested. If the animal dies during the observation period, it must be submitted for testing.
- Bites from other domestic animals (such as horses, cows, goats, and sheep) will be evaluated by your local health department. The animals can usually be observed for 10 days to rule out the possibility of rabies.
How long does it take for rabies to develop?
In animals, development of symptoms can be from 2 weeks to many months.
In humans, symptoms usually develop after 3 – 8 weeks. In some cases, symptoms have appeared as early as 9 days and as long as 7 years after exposure.
The length of time depends on a number of factors including:
- the severity of the bite
- location of bite
- the amount and the strain of the rabies virus.
What are the signs and symptoms of rabies infection in humans?
After being bitten, the person may be free from symptoms that may last for a period of 10-14 days or even 30-50 days more. If not treated promptly, symptoms of rabies may start after that period or even shorter. The infection evolves in two phases:
Prelude or Prodomal phase
- Weakness or restlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness or a tingling sensation at bite site
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle stiffness
- Excessive salivation
- Sensitivity to light, sound and change of temperature
- Episodes of uncontrollable excitement recurring with periods of calmness
- Difficulty and pain breathing and swallowing liquid
- Usually feels thirsty but experiences hydrophobia or fear of water
- Signs of nervous system disorders like, delirium or hallucinations, hyperactivity, seizures and paralysis
Death usually follows within a week after the appearance of symptoms. Often due to cardiac or respiratory failure.
How can I protect my pets?
Vaccination and animal control programs have helped to prevent rabies in most pets. Let your pets be vaccinated for anti-rabies when they reach at least 3 months of age and yearly thereafter for protection on resistant strains. Provide proper nutrition, exercise and shelter for your pets. Keep them in your own backyard as much as possible so as to prevent contact from stray animals or infected ones. It is recommended that you bring your pet to the veterinary clinic as often as possible for regular consultation. Cats and dogs that spend time outdoors may have more risk of coming into contact with a rabid wild animal, but it is important to also vaccinate pets that stay indoors.
What should I do if my pet has bitten someone?
- Urge the victim to seek medical care immediately.
- Check with your veterinarian to see if your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
- Report the bite to your local health department.
- Report any unusual illness or behavior from your pet to the local health department and veterinarian.
- Don’t let your pet free-roam and don’t give your pet away. The animal must be available for observation.
- After the recommended observation period, have your pet vaccinated for rabies if it is overdue.
What should I do if my pet has been bitten by a potentially rabid animal?
- Call your veterinarian immediately.
- Even if your pet is currently vaccinated against rabies, it will need to be vaccinated again.
- Unvaccinated pets exposed to a rabid animal may need to be euthanized (put to sleep) immediately, or placed in strict isolation for six months and then vaccinated prior to release.
How can rabies be prevented?
- Vaccinate your pets against rabies and keep vaccinations up-to-date.
- Any type of animal for which a licensed vaccine exists should be vaccinated, and these include dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, cows, sheep, and goats.
- Do not feed or touch wild animals.
- Avoid contact with strays or pets other than your own.
- If you think your pet or livestock may have been exposed to a rabid animal, report it to your veterinarian.
- Report unusual behavior in stray or wild animals to municipal animal control.
- Report all animal bites immediately to your local health department.
In humans, rabies can be prevented by reducing your exposure to unvaccinated animals, unfamiliar animals, and wild or exotic animals for which vaccines do not exist. In the case of exposure to a potentially rabid animal, there is a Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) treatment which, when administered appropriately, can prevent the disease in exposed persons. There is no PEP treatment available for animals.
Is there a rabies vaccine for people?
There are rabies vaccines available for use in people. In most cases, they are used as part of the PEP treatment for people exposed to potentially rabid animals. Persons in high-risk occupations such as veterinarians and animal control officers, or some people traveling overseas, may have a pre-exposure series of vaccines in order to induce immunity to the rabies virus. In the case of future exposure to a rabid animal, fewer doses of vaccine are required for PEP.
What is Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)?
PEP is the treatment given to people exposed to potentially or known rabid animals. Guidelines for PEP have been developed by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and include one dose of rabies immune globulin, and a series of 4 doses of rabies vaccine given over a 14 day period. Rabies immune globulin is made up of antibodies to the rabies virus, and is injected into the site of the bite from the animal. The vaccine is administered in the muscle of the arm. There has never been a case of rabies in a person who has received PEP administered in accordance with the ACIP recommended guidelines.
Will rabies vaccine make me sick?
Rabies vaccine is made from killed rabies virus, and cannot cause rabies. The vaccine is no more painful than any other type of vaccination, and side effects are similar to those seen with other vaccines, and can include pain, redness, itching, and swelling at the site of the vaccination. Localized pain and a fever can sometimes follow a rabies immune globulin injection. Most side effects can be managed with an anti-inflammatory medication such as paracetamol. As with any vaccine, some individuals can experience more serious side effects, and a physician should be consulted if this occurs. If you experience an unusual reaction to any vaccine, ask your health care provider to report it to the Food and Drug Administration.
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Health Protection Agency, 2012. Rabies: Frequently Asked Questions. [online] Available at: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/Rabies/GeneralInformation/ClassicalRabiesFAQs/ [Accessed 28 February 2013].