What is the risk?
When you hear the word rabies, you most likely picture an animal that’s foaming at the mouth and is acting crazy. While this can be an accurate description, how concerned should you be about it? How frequently does rabies occur? How is it treated? What can you do to prevent it?
Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus and is usually transmitted to humans through the salvia from a bite of an infected animal. Any mammal can transmit the virus, including cats, dogs, ferrets, goats, horses, cows, bats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, skunks, bats, beavers, woodchucks and monkeys. In the United States, the animals that are most likely to spread rabies are bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks. You are more likely to contract rabies if you participate in activities that increase your chances of encountering wild animals, traveling/living in areas where rabies is more common, such as developing countries, or if your wounds from the animal are to your head or neck.
The initial symptoms of rabies are very similar to the flu and can linger for several days. Late stage rabies symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, agitation, anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, fear of water (from the difficulty swallowing), excessive salivation, hallucinations, insomnia, partial paralysis and death. It’s essential to note that once the late stage symptoms appear, the disease is usually fatal. This is why seeking treatment as soon as you’re bitten or exposed to animal that might have rabies is crucial.
The only way to effectively treat a rabies infection is to catch it before it takes hold in your body. The way this is accomplished is through a series of shots that are given as soon as possible after the bite. This is called postexposure prophylaxis. The shots are comprised of the rabies immune globulin, which helps your body to recognize the virus and fight it. The initial injection is given in two parts. The first is typically given in your arm and the second is given around the area where the animal bit you. You will receive three more injections in your arm on day 3, 7 and 14 following exposure. This is help provide your body with as much opportunity as possible to recognize the rabies virus as an intruder.
If it’s possible to determine that the animal that bit you is healthy, then you won’t need the injections. Each case is different depending on the animal involved. For pets, such as cats, dogs and ferrets, they can usually be observed for 10 days to see if they have any symptoms. For other domesticated animals, it depends on the animal and their risk for having the virus. For wild animals, it’s a matter of whether or not the specific animal can be captured and killed to test for rabies. If the animal can’t be observed or caught, then it depends on what your doctor and the local health department would recommend regarding whether or not you would need to receive the injections based off of the level of risk.
The good news is that, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are only one to three cases of rabies reported annually. However, there are 30,000 to 60,000 people who are treated for postexposure prophylaxis. So, you should be aware of your risk level and be prepared in order to prevent yourself or those you care about from having to deal with a rabies infection. There are several things that you can do that can help. The first is to not approach wild animals and report any stray animals to local authorities. The next is to prevent bats from entering your home by sealing up any areas where they may enter. If you already have bats in your home, enlist the help of professionals to remove them. If you’re going to be traveling to an area with rabies is prevalent, get the rabies vaccine before your trip. If you have pets, be sure to get them vaccinated and keep them away from wild animals.
Rabies is not something to be taken lightly. By being prepared and given the overall risk level of contracting it, you won’t shouldn’t have to worry about being infected. If you have any questions or concerns about rabies, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s rabies page at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html