National World Rabies Day occurs every year on September 28th and is a vital tool in helping educate the public about the dangers of this deadly disease. The more you're able to learn about it, the better you're able to protect yourself, your family, and your pets from even being exposed. This blog explains what exactly rabies is, the symptoms that occur, the available treatment for Rabies, and prevention against Rabies.
What is Rabies?
Rabies disease is a dangerous virus carried in the saliva of infected mammals, which is why almost all cases of transmission are done via bites. It can, however, also be transmitted if the saliva gets into an open wound or via the mouth or eyes. 99% of rabies cases are from dog bites of dogs carrying the disease and are most common in third-world countries where there are numerous amounts of stray dogs. In the US, the most common animals to spread the virus are raccoons, coyotes, bats, skunks, and foxes. These animals normally spread the disease to household pets, and thankfully fewer than three people in the US every year become infected with Rabies.
There are two forms of Rabies Disease
Furious and Paralytic. Furious is the type more commonly associated with Rabies Disease. This is characterized by psychosis, hallucinations, irrational actions, fear of light and water, and hyperactivity. The other type, paralytic rabies, is almost the exact opposite. This is characterized by lethargy, neurologic slowness, paralysis, and even comas.
Different Stages of Rabies
Rabies has several distinct stages of infection:
- Incubation Period: This is right after the virus is in the body and before symptoms begin. It can take anywhere from one week to one year for symptoms to occur, depending on how fast the virus moves from the body to the brain. This stage is where treatment is possible if administered early.
- Prodromal phase: This is where more mild symptoms occur. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, nausea, headache, sore joints, and general flu-like symptoms.
- Acute Neurologic Period: This is where the virus has gotten to the brain and causes more aggressive symptoms such as convulsions, muscle spasms, confusion, aggression, foaming at the mouth, and the other obvious symptoms associated with Rabies.
At the end of the progression, Rabies leads to coma and death.
Treatment for Rabies... Kind Of
There is no treatment for Rabies after symptoms occur. If someone, pet, or person, is bitten by an animal who is either confirmed to have rabies or not, needs to seek immediate medical attention in order to have the best chance of stopping infection. To minimize the number of viral particles entering the bloodstream, it is recommended to wash out the bite/open wound with soapy, antibacterial water for 15 minutes. Then the individual MUST seek medical attention. Treatment of Rabies before symptoms occur is possible via a series of shots immediately after exposure. If symptoms occur it is normally too late to expect effective treatment. Very few people have survived rabies, and if infected, healthcare professionals will do everything they can to make the infected individual comfortable.
But why is there no treatment for Rabies? Well, this answer from Cleveland Clinic sums it up perfectly! In their article titled “Rabies: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention,” they explain the following: “There’s no cure for rabies once it’s moved to your brain because it’s protected by your brain’s blood barrier. Your blood-brain barrier is a layer between your brain and the blood vessels in your head. Its job is to protect your brain by keeping toxins and other dangerous substances from getting into your brain from your blood. It’s like a very fine strainer. Researchers aren’t sure how, but rabies locks this barrier down even further, so medications that might destroy it can’t get through.”
So how can you protect yourself and your pet from Rabies? The answer is simple: Vaccination Prevention. Only some humans qualify for the pre-exposure vaccination and are those who may be more likely to be exposed such as wildlife workers, veterinarians, etc. As stated previously, the most common way for an individual to be exposed to Rabies would be a wild animal infecting a household pet.
The most effective way to prevent the spread of Rabies is to keep your pet current on the Rabies vaccination and have regular visits with the Veterinarian. Some other things that are important to do would be keeping your pets indoors and keeping a close eye on them when they are outside. A cat is much less likely to be bitten by a rabies-infected animal if they're safely in your home cuddled up on their cat bed. Spaying and neutering all pets is also important because if your un-neutered pet gets outside and is able to breed with another unneutered stray, that pet will have babies and those babies will be unvaccinated, which means there's more of a chance for Rabies to be spread to them and expose your neighborhood.
The More You Know
Rabies is a frightening disease, but the good news is that it's also highly preventable. If you or your four-legged family member ever experience a bite, don't hesitate—get medical help right away, no matter the vaccination status of the animal involved. And let's not forget the power of prevention: keeping your pet's vaccinations up-to-date, especially for Rabies, can make all the difference. So let's be proactive and give our pets the protection they deserve!
This blog was first seen on Family Pet Veterinary Center.