What is rabies?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is responsible for 59,000 human deaths annually around the world, with 95% of deaths occurring in the Asia and Africa regions. The WHO also reports that domesticated dogs cause around 99% of rabies cases worldwide.
What are the symptoms of rabies?
The virus enters the body through an animal bite or exposure to an infected animal’s saliva. It then travels to the brain before a person experiences any symptoms.
Depending on factors such as the type of rabies virus, the location of the exposure bite, and any existing immunity, the incubation period may last for weeks or months.
The first symptoms that an infected human may experience may be similar to the flu which include general fatigue or discomfort, as well as fever or prolonged headache. The patient may also feel itching, prickling, or discomfort at the site of exposure.
Two forms of rabies can occur: furious and paralytic. In the case of furious rabies, the afflicted will descend into more severe symptoms—nausea, vomiting, agitation, anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty in swallowing, excessive salivation, insomnia, and partial paralysis.
Furious rabies can also affect a person’s perception of reality and behavior. The virus may cause delirium, hydrophobia, aerophobia, a fear of attempting to drink fluids due to the difficulty of swallowing water, hallucinations, and abnormal or aggressive behavior (such as biting).
For paralytic rabies, it may take a longer, less dramatic course, wherein muscles gradually get paralyzed beginning at the location of exposure. After this, a coma will slowly develop.
For both cases, once these symptoms appear, the disease is usually fatal. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in America reports less than 20 cases of human survival from clinical rabies to date.
How is rabies treated?
It is crucial to perform first aid on the bite regardless if the animal is confirmed to be rabid or not. Immediately wash the area with soap and clean water. If the bite wound is bleeding, apply pressure on it with sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Once the bleeding has stopped, treat the area with antibacterial ointment, and then cover it with a bandage or sterile dressing.
As rabies has an incubation period before exhibiting symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical attention if someone was bitten by a wild or stray animal, a pet that is not up-to-date on rabies shots, or an animal that is acting strangely. Other reasons to seek medical care are if:
- The bite has broken the skin
- The bite is on the face, head, neck, hand, foot, or near a joint
- It has turned red, hot, swollen, or more painful
- The afflicted has not had a tetanus shot within five years
If you suspect that you have been bitten by a rabid animal in your sleep (like a bat) or if an animal has bitten someone who cannot report a bite, like small children or a person with disabilities, it’s also advisable to seek medical attention.
Depending on the type of exposure, the animal, and if it can be captured for testing, as well as information on the area where the exposure occurred, the healthcare provider may suggest starting post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This is given as immediate treatment for bite victims after exposure to a rabid animal.
The first shot is a fast-acting shot of rabies immune globulin and administered near the bite location. This prevents the virus from entering the central nervous system, which can result in death. Following this, a series of four injections will be given over 14 days. This helps the body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus.
How is rabies prevented?
Luckily, rabies is a preventable disease. There are several steps people can take to reduce the risk of pets getting infected, and their chance of coming into contact with rabid animals
Have your pets vaccinated
Protect your pets from wild animals
Report strays to local authorities
Do not approach wild animals
Keep bats out of your home
Consider getting a preemptive vaccine
Keep you and your pets safe from rabies
Rabies is one of the primary health concerns in the country. Given that the virus is transmitted through bites or exposure to the infected animal’s saliva, immediate medical attention is key to surviving this fatal disease.
Prevention also plays a significant role in reducing the incidence of rabies. This can be done through responsible pet ownership, as well as vigilance when interacting with pets and other animals.
If you believe that a rabid animal bit you and suspect that you have incurred any infectious diseases, proceed to Makati Medical Center’s Center for Tropical and Travel Medicine for diagnosis and treatment.