Five Things You need to Know about Rabies

We’ve all heard of Hachi and Richard Gere’s bond in the movie Hachi: a Dog’s Tale, but not everyone could have the same story.

Animals, wild and domestic, can transmit rabies through  their  saliva. World Health Organization (WHO) have accounted 55,000 deaths caused by rabies and majority of these deaths occur in children.

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system of mammals, and death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms. It can enter the human body through the bite of an infected animal, and it can also be spread (though very rare) through saliva droplets of an infected animal that contacts a skin break (through wound or lesion).

The virus concentrates in the salivary glands (which is why it is commonly spread through bites) with strong affinity for cells of the nervous system. At the site of the wound, it enters the nerve cells, then travels to the brain and follows other nerve pathways to muscles and organs that are specially affected by rabies. It also invades and damages the muscles involved in drinking and swallowing.

Before taking on a pet, here’s a few things you need to know about rabies.

What are the standard rabies carrying animals? 

Patient with rabies, 1959
Don't let this happen to you. (patient with rabies) Photo credit: Wikipedia

All warm blooded animals can carry the virus. Cats, dogs and cattle account for nearly 90 percent of rabies cases in domestic animals, with horses, mules, sheep, goats and ferrets making up the remaining cases.

Among wild animals, the disease is most often reported in skunks and raccoons but other wild species like bats, foxes and rodents are also affected.

How do you tell if your pet is rabid?

Symptoms may show from twenty to sixty days after exposure to rabies. In animals, the signs include: unusual restlessness, fever, dilation of pupils, watchful and apprehensive look, biting at inanimate objects, aimless running and unprovoked aggressiveness and difficulty in swallowing followed by a change in meow or bark or howling sounds.

Wild animals may lose their fear of humans or pets may become aggressive or withdraw.  Often the animal does not eat, may fear water, and have an unsteady gait. Animals may become lethargic because paralysis and weakening of muscles may happen, starting from the rear limbs up to the throat and neck muscles.

What are the signs of rabies in humans?

It is the same with humans. After a symptom-free incubation period from 10 days to a year  (the average is 30 to 60 days) a person infected with the virus will experience discomfort, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, and fever. Patients have also reported pain, itching or numbness at the site of exposure. Others also complain of insomnia and depression.

After the incubation period, signs of nervous damage like hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, disorientation, hallucinations and seizures will appear. Sudden death due to cardiac or respiratory arrest may also happen. Some patients also experience a period of comatose state that may last for months with the help of life support.

Is there a cure for rabies?

The virus has an incubation period of 20 to 60 days. This means that if a bite victim gets his anti-rabies shots before the virus becomes lethal, then there’s a high chance that it can be cured. Incubation depends on the site of the bite. If the bite is near the brain,, incubation may take as short as 7 days. Once the symptoms start manifesting, not even a truck full of vaccine can help the victim.

How can rabies be prevented then?

The best way to prevent rabies spread is to have your pets vaccinated. Puppies should be vaccinated as early as 9 to 16 weeks old. Adult dogs should have a yearly vaccination.  Visit your pet’s veterinarian regularly and ensure that your pets are kept indoors, and dogs specially, should be under direct supervision when outdoors.

If you do get bitten or exposed, wash and flush the wound thoroughly with soap and water. The virus is easily killed by soaps, detergents, bleach, alcohol and ultraviolet light.  Seek medical attention as you may need post-exposure vaccination and wound care immediately.

Pets can de-stress you but they can also be a source of agony if you don’t take care of them.

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