10 Facts About Rabies

  1. Rabies is a zoonotic disease (infection that could spread from animals to humans) caused by rabies virus (a Lyssavirus).  
  2. Rabies is present on all continents except Antarctica. The majority of human infections occur in Asia and Africa.  Children are especially vulnerable since they may not report scratches or bites. 
  3. Although all species of mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection, only a few species are important as reservoirs for the disease. The main reservoir is wild and domestic canids (dogs, wolves, foxes, skunks, mongooses, dingoes, jackals). Small rodents (eg, squirrels, rats, mice) and lagomorphs (eg, rabbits, hares) usually die before being able to transmit rabies virus to humans, and human disease has not been documented from these mammals. 
  4. Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths. Cats are the most common domestic animals reported by US health departments as being rabid, owing to the possible contacts with bats and other mammals. In the Americas, bats are now the major source of human rabies deaths as dog-mediated transmission has mostly been broken in this region. The role of bats and other carnivores in human rabies transmission in Africa appears minimal. 
  5. People are usually infected following a deep bite or scratch from an animal with rabies. Transmission can also occur when infectious material – usually saliva – comes into direct contact with human mucosa or fresh skin wounds. Human-to-human transmission through bites is theoretically possible but has never been confirmed. Ingestion of raw meat or other tissues from animals infected with rabies is not a source of human infection 
  6. Immediate, thorough wound washing for a minimum of 15 minute with soap and water, povidone iodine or other viricides after contact with a suspect rabid animal is crucial and can save lives. Immediately after wound cleaning, a post-exposure prophylaxis with a course of potent and effective rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulinadministered into and around the wound site can prevent the onset of symptoms and death. For adults, the vaccine should always be administered in the deltoid area of the arm whereas for young children (under 1 year of age) the anterolateral area of the thigh is recommended 
  7. Usually symptoms appear 1 to 3 months, although they can appear as early as a few days after exposure to the virus depending on bite site. A bite near the head will make the disease act too fast for the treatment to take effect.  
  8. The illness is characterized by fever and pain or a tingling sensation at the wound site. With time and due to brain and spinal cord involvement, patients present with anxiety, hyperactivity, convulsions, delirium, and fear of swallowing or drinking liquids, as well as a fear of moving air or wind. In other patients, muscles become paralysed followed by a coma. Once symptoms are present, most patients die within 1 or 2 weeks. 
  9. Dog rabies is characterized by clinical manifestations including changes to normal behaviour, such as: biting without provocation, eating abnormal items such as sticks, nails, faeces, running for no apparent reason, vocal changes (e.g. hoarse barking and growling) or inability to produce sounds, excessive salivation or foaming from the mouth. 
  10. In comparison to other communicable diseases, rabies is preventable yet incurable; eliminating rabies from the dog population is the key to stopping human rabies. Success in canine rabies elimination has been demonstrated in developing countries including Latin America and Asia, where sustained mass vaccination of dogs was shown to be the single most costeffective intervention for controlling and eliminating canine rabies and consequently human rabies. 

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