Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals. Transmission occurs when saliva containing the rabies virus is introduced into an opening in the skin, usually via the bite of a rabid animal.
After the rabies virus enters the body, it begins to multiply near the entry site and invade the nerve cells. Once the virus is in the nerve tissue, it travels to the brain, where it continues to multiply. The virus may then spread along nerves from the brain to the salivary glands or other parts of the body.
Despite its severity, there are still many misconceptions about the rabies virus. Do you have your facts straight?
True or False:
Rabies disease only affects animals.
The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes.
However, humans are at risk for the disease too. Humans get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. It is also possible, but quite rare, that people may get rabies if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound.
Rabies in humans is very rare, and you shouldn’t worry about it.
TRUE and FALSE
It’s difficult to assess the annual number of human rabies deaths worldwide due to under-reporting in developing countries, like Asian and Africa. Human rabies deaths in these areas are estimated to be in the tens of thousands, possibly as high as 55,000. The number of cases in humans is low in the United States, with an average of two to three a year, according to the CDC.
If a human has rabies, they foam at the mouth and become aggressive.
The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.
Infected animals may show extreme behavioral changes such as restlessness or aggression. As the virus progresses, an infected animal may become hypersensitive to touch, light and sound. Paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles may follow, resulting in the well-known symptom of foaming at the mouth.
Although it is a dangerous disease, you can prevent rabies.
Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt and appropriate medical care. The major source of rabies in humans can be eliminated through ensuring adequate animal vaccination and control and educating those at risk.
Visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets and dogs. Call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill. Do not approach an unknown or stray animal, or break up any animal fighting, because you can get bitten. If you are exposed to an animal that may have rabies, call animal control to catch the animal if possible. If you have any questions regarding the rabies virus, contact your healthcare provider or veterinarian.