Each year, dog and cat owners flock rather reluctantly to their vet to shell out ten dollars or so to have their pet vaccinated against the rabies virus -- and be glad they do. Rabies is an often fatal and painful disease which affects the brain and nervous system of those infected. Your government constantly works to ensure the disease is kept in check by requiring the vaccination of pets, and restricting pets with the disease from entering the country. Let's take a look at how the disease is transmitted and how it manifests itself once inside the body.
Rabies is caused by a Lyssavirus, which is excreted in saliva and attacks the nervous system.
Without proper treatment, rabies is fatal for almost every person who is infected by it. Most animals have a similar death rate, but some, especially bats, may tolerate infection and survive.
The virus is typically transmitted to people through an infected mammal's bite. The virus travels from the animal's saliva through the person's nerves to the brain, where it can cause inflammation, swelling, and eventually death. The virus descends through nerves and settles in the salivary glands, where it can be passed on through a bite. There have been rare cases of person-to-person transmission via corneal transplants (corneas have many nerves).
Early rabies symptoms, such as headache, fever, and malaise, are not specific to the disease, so contact your physician immediately if you feel these after an animal bites you. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, paralysis, excessive salivation, and difficulty swallowing (hydrophobia). If you're bitten by a rabid animal, a series of vaccinations should begin right away. The vaccinations are only effective if given before symptoms develop, which is usually three to four weeks after the bite.
Who Is At Risk?
Those with exposure, accidental or otherwise, to wild animals or free-roaming dogs are most at risk of contracting rabies. According to the World Health Organization, between 30 percent and 60 percent of dog bite victims in areas where canine rabies is endemic are children younger than 15.
Rabies, although most prevalent in wild animals, such as foxes, skunks, raccoons, monkeys, and bats, can certainly appear in household pets, including dogs, cats, and ferrets. Here are several ways to protect yourself and your family:
- Rabies may lurk in any "wild" environment, including the woods behind your suburban subdivision. Supervise your dogs, cats, and other pets; keeping them on your property will reduce their risk of exposure.
- All warm-blooded pets need a rabies vaccination -- see your vet and keep these vaccinations current.
- If you are at high risk for rabies infection, get vaccinated. Veterinarians and wildlife workers routinely receive vaccinations as a precaution.
- When exploring the great outdoors, keep in mind that overly friendly wild animals are probably just too sick to run away. Enjoy wildlife from a distance and call animal control or a local emergency number if an animal is acting strangely.
- Do not unintentionally attract animals by leaving the lids off garbage cans, and keep bats at bay by blocking nesting areas on or around your home.
- Teach your children not to pet or touch animals they do not know, even if the animals seem friendly.
- If you see a wild animal or a pet foaming at the mouth, stay away and call animal control. When the rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, it makes it difficult for an animal to swallow its own infected saliva, leading to "foaming."
- If your pet is attacked or bitten by another animal, report the attack to local health or animal control authorities. Even if your pet is vaccinated, your veterinarian will likely recommend a booster shot.
- When traveling abroad, avoid contact with wild animals and be especially wary around dogs. In developing areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, dogs are a major carrier of rabies. Before traveling internationally, talk with your physician about your risk of exposure, whether you should be vaccinated, and what you should do if you are exposed to rabies while in a foreign country.
If you think a rabid animal has bitten you, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least ten minutes. Note what kind of animal it was and how it was acting. Get medical help immediately and alert animal control authorities to the animal's location.
On our final page, we will look at an infection that is similar to bacterial meningitis. Keep reading to learn about viral meningitis.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.