Rabies Transmission Symptoms Treatment Prevention Vaccine

Rabies Transmission Symptoms Treatment Prevention Vaccine


Rabies is a viral illness spread through the saliva of an infected animal by the rabies virus (genus Lyssavirus). Rabies exposure usually occurs through biting, touch of saliva on open wounds, or contact with mucous membranes.

What causes rabies?

Rabies is caused by the rabies virus, which infects the brain and ultimately leads to death. After a rabid animal bites someone, the virus is deposited in the muscle and tissue. The virus then travels to the brain and from there, to the rest of the body.

Any warm-blooded animal can spread rabies, with bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and stray dogs being the most common carriers. The virus has also been found in cows, cats, ferrets, and horses.

Check with your local health department for information on rabies carriers in your area.

What are risk factors for rabies?

Activities that involve contact with possibly rabid animals, such as traveling in areas where rabies is common or outdoor activities near bats and other potential carriers, increase the risk of infection.

What are rabies symptoms and signs?

Symptoms of human rabies can appear within the first week of infection.

Early symptoms include weakness, fever, and headaches. Without known exposure to a rabid animal, these symptoms may not raise suspicion of rabies, as they resemble the flu or other viral syndromes.

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The disease can then take two forms:

  1. With paralytic rabies, the patient’s muscles gradually become paralyzed, starting at the bite site. This less common form ends in coma and death.
  2. With furious rabies, the patient exhibits classic symptoms such as anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, hypersalivation, fear and avoidance of water (hydrophobia), fear of fresh air (aerophobia), and difficulty swallowing.

Once clinical signs occur, rabies is almost always fatal. There is one case of a patient surviving rabies without vaccination (Jeanna Giese), but this is not recommended as a treatment alternative.

How do physicians diagnose rabies?

In animals, rabies is diagnosed by detecting the virus in the brain. In humans, it is diagnosed through various tests on saliva, blood samples, spinal fluid, and skin samples.

Can rabies be cured?

If someone is thought to have been exposed to a potentially rabid animal, medical care is recommended. Animals with no symptoms can be isolated and observed for 10 days. Wild animals that can be captured can be tested for the virus. Consult with the health department if the animal can’t be found.

Prophylaxis is recommended after a wildlife bite from a suspected rabid animal. The specific treatment depends on factors such as the location and nature of the bites and the risks associated with the animal involved.

Treatment involves a series of injections, including a rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and the rabies vaccine. Follow-up doses are administered over the next 2 weeks.

How long until rabies kills a human?

The incubation period for rabies can range from a few days to several years. Once symptoms start, the disease is almost always fatal if left untreated.

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Is it possible to prevent rabies? Is there a rabies vaccine?

Rabies prevention involves good pet care, avoiding contact with wild animals, and keeping bats out of homes. When traveling, be aware of stray animals. In areas where rabies is common, consider getting a rabies vaccination.

Gaeta, T.J., M.L. Magarelli, F. Flores, and J.R. Balentine. "Patient noncompliance with rabies immunoprophylaxis." J Emerg Med. 15.3 May-June 1997: 378-379.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "First human death associated with raccoon rabies–Virginia, 2003." MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 52.45 Nov. 14, 2003: 1102-3.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Rabies." Sept. 24, 2018. .

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Rabies Vaccine." Oct. 6, 2009. .

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Rabies Vaccine." Oct. 6, 2009. .


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