Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system. You get the disease through the bite of a rabid animal, meaning an animal that is carrying the rabies virus.
According to the CDC, about 60,000 people die yearly because of rabies. Dogs account for 99% of rabies transmissions to human beings, especially in developing countries.
However, in countries where dogs get the vaccine against rabies — like the United States — the disease mainly spreads through bats. Other animals that can spread rabies include domestic animals like cats, horses, ferrets, and goats; and wild animals like beavers, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and monkeys.
Anyone can become infected with rabies, although some people are likelier than others. More on that in a minute!
The Signs and Symptoms of Rabies
According to the World Health Organization, it typically takes two to three months for rabies symptoms to start to show, although it can be as short as one week and as long as a year! This is the “incubation stage.” The initial symptoms of rabies are fever, headache, nausea, pain in the body, weakness, and itchiness in the area where you got bitten. These symptoms can last for days.
As the virus spreads through your body, you will develop more severe symptoms like anxiety, confusion, hallucination, fear of water, insomnia, anxiety, partial paralysis, and salivating excessively.
Why is the Rabies Vaccine So Important?
The rabies vaccine is vital, especially if you plan to travel to a developing nation. Why? Simple. If left untreated, rabies has almost a 100% mortality rate. Yes, rabies is usually fatal without a pre-exposure vaccination or treatment after a bite by a rabid animal. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the disease. This is also why if you have a pet, you should be sure to get them the rabies vaccine on time, every time.
If you’re not vaccinated and come into contact with a wild or otherwise unvaccinated animal (whether they scratch or bite you), it’s essential to act immediately. You should not assume that the animal has no rabies virus regardless of size. For instance, bat bites are rarely visible, yet their saliva can contain the rabies virus. In fact, if you get bitten in a developing nation, you almost need to assume that you’ve got rabies.
Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water and then seek medical attention as soon as possible for diagnosis and to begin treatment.
The doctor will assess you and if needed, administer postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP consists of:
- Human rabies immune globulin (HRIG). This shot prevents the virus from infecting you and is administered if you have never gotten a rabies vaccine before. You’ll receive the shot in the area near the animal bite.
- Rabies vaccination. You will get four doses of the rabies vaccine over two weeks if you were not vaccinated against the disease.
If you’ve never gotten the vaccine against rabies, PEP should always include both HRIG and the rabies vaccine, whether you experienced a bite or scratch.
The Risk Factors for Rabies
Factors that can increase the likelihood of getting rabies include:
- Visiting countries where rabies is common.
- Living in an area with a high bat population.
- Living in an area with greater exposure to wild animals.
- Laboratory workers handling the rabies virus.
- Camping in a place where there is a high chance of encountering a wild animal.
How to Prevent Rabies
There are steps that you can take to help protect yourself against rabies. They include:
1. Vaccinating Your Pets
Animals that have not had a rabies vaccine are a high-risk factor for the rabies virus. Take your pets to the veterinarian, and always ensure that they are up to date with their rabies shots. Your veterinarian should also develop a vaccination plan for your pet.
2. Avoid Contact With Wild Animals
Wild animals like raccoons, skunks, and foxes can spread the rabies virus if they bite/scratch you. You should always protect yourself when camping, hiking, or otherwise spending time outdoors. Don’t touch wild animals, even if they seem friendly.
3. Get Vaccinated
It’s essential to get the rabies vaccine if you work in high-risk environments, such as laboratories handling rabies, or if your profession involves interacting with wild animals. People who travel to developing countries should also get their rabies shot.
The pre-exposure vaccines are administered in two to three doses. The doses must follow a schedule of day zero, day seven, and possibly a booster, which you can receive on day 21 to three years.
4. Control Your Pets
Keep your pets where you can supervise them easily, especially if you live somewhere with a bigger wild animal population. This reduces the chance of your pet coming into contact with a rabid animal.
5. Educate Other People About Rabies
Teaching people ways they can prevent rabies and educating them on how to properly handle their pets can reduce incidences of rabies infection.
Rabies Should Never Be Left Untreated
Rabies is a fatal disease if left untreated. If you don’t receive the appropriate medical care after exposure to the rabies virus, there’s a high chance of dying. The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself against this preventable viral disease. Take a proactive approach to your health and get the vaccine today.
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