News & Blogs
September 25 2020

The Truth About Rabies: 11 Facts You Need to Know



 
Pets have become a necessary part of humans’ daily lives, with some people caring for multiple cats and dogs in their households. But, sometimes, they get too rambunctious or aggressive and end up biting someone. These bites, regardless of intention, should be taken seriously as these furry companions may pose a danger unique to them: rabies.
 

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that can spread from the saliva of infected animals (both domestic and wild), most often through a bite. This disease, which can affect all mammals (warm-blooded animals), disrupts the nervous system and can lead to death if not given immediate treatment.
 
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

Immunization of cats and dogs can ultimately stop the spread of rabies. Consult with a veterinarian on which pets can be immunized, what age they can begin receiving vaccines, and how often their shots need to be updated. Make sure not to miss a scheduled anti-rabies shot.
 
  • Protect your pets from wild animals

Keeping pets—especially puppies, kittens, or smaller animals—away from wild animals is essential to prevent them from being infected, as they may be too small or too young to be immunized. Keep them indoors and closely supervise them when outside. If possible, keep them away from areas that wild animals may frequent.
 
  • Report strays to local authorities

Stray animals can be a source of rabies, and allowing them to roam freely—especially if they appear to be rabid—can be dangerous for the whole community. Avoid interacting with strays, no matter how friendly or approachable they may seem. Instead, report them to local authorities who can properly deal with these animals.
 
  • Do not approach wild animals

Wild animals may also carry rabies and other types of diseases, so best not to approach or interact with them. Wild animals with rabies may exhibit abnormal behavior, including being seemingly unafraid of people. If an animal appears to be too friendly or unafraid, stay away from it and report it to your local authorities.
 
  • Keep bats out of your home

In some areas, bats can find their way into homes to seek shelter. However, bats can also be sources of rabies. Seal any cracks or openings in your home where bats may enter through, and contact a pest control expert who can deal with them appropriately if they do find their way inside.
 
  • Consider getting a preemptive vaccine

A person who will be traveling to a country with a high incidence of rabies or working in a position that may require more frequent exposures to rabid animals may want to consult with a medical professional to know if he or she can be immunized. This will reduce the risk of being infected with the virus.
 

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.