Introduction to Rabies

There are only few cases of rabies infections in people in the United States. But it kills around 50,000 people every year in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries where pets are not vaccinated against rabies. In the Philippines, for example, 300 to 600 in one million Filipinos die each year due to rabies infections.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a virus that causes brain inflammation in mammals. Humans can get infected when bitten by rabid animals such as dogs, bats, raccoons, skunks, and even cats. If left untreated, the infection will progress and it is fatal in almost all cases when neurological symptoms manifest. However, immediate post-exposure vaccination may help prevent zoonotic neuroinvasive disease from happening.

Diagnosis of rabies

The differential diagnosis may include causes of encephalitis, especially infection with viruses like arboviruses (for example, West Nile virus), enteroviruses, and herpesviruses. Varicella-zoster virus, herpes simplex virus type 1, and enteroviruses are the viruses to exclude.

Moreover, the local epidemiology of arbovirus-caused encephalitis must also be considered. Epidemiologic variables such as geographic location, season, as well as the age of the patient, his or her travel history, and exposure to animal bites may be helpful in directing the diagnostic workup.

How rabies can be transmitted?

Most animals are not immune to rabies and can transmit this infection to humans. Infected dogs, cats, wolves, cattle, skunks, foxes, raccoons, bats and monkeys pose a big risk to humans. Transmission is often (but not necessarily) through a bite, in which the virus spreads into surrounding muscle, working its way up to the brain.

Virus may also be transmitted through an aerosol via mucous membranes. The transmission of the virus between humans is very rare. But it can occur through transplant surgery. It is also possible, although not very likely, the transfer of rabies through kisses, sexual acts, bites, or any exchange in bodily fluids..

Signs and symptoms of rabies

The first symptoms usually manifest from a week to over a year following the date the person is bitten by a rabid animal. One obvious sign of an infection is a twitching or tingling feeling around the area of the bite. It is commonly associated by a headache, fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches, fatigue, and nausea.

As the rabies progresses, an infected person may develop some of these symptoms: agitation or excessive movements, hallucination, abnormal or bizarre thoughts, abnormal postures, weakness or paralysis, excessive production of saliva and tears, speech difficulty, irritability, confusion, muscle spasms, seizures, double vision, and extreme sensitivity to touch, sounds, or bright lights.

How rabies is prevented?

Prevention is still the best treatment for rabies. First and foremost, you need to have your pets vaccinated as they can be infected by rabies. You aso have to report to your local animal-control officer or health authorities any stray animals you see.

Tell your children that they should stay away from and don’t feed stray dogs or cats. If you’ve been bitten by an animal that might have the virus, clean your wound thouroughly and then go to your doctor.