Rabies is a rare, preventable viral disease of the brain and nerves. Most often it is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal.
Across the globe, 99 percent of human rabies cases result from virus transmission by domestic dogs.
"Zoonotic diseases like Rabies claims the lives of people in their prime denying the family of their earning member” says Shri Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare.
Approximately 55,000 human deaths caused by rabies are reported annually, with most of these cases occurring in developing countries.
Rabies Can Be Fatal
The disease can be fatal, according to the CDC. Five people died from rabies in the US in the year 2021, including three in just a 6-week span from Sept 28 to Nov 10 — a “sobering reminder,” one expert said, of the risk still posed by one of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Rabies infection is caused by the rabies virus, which is spread through the saliva of infected animals.
"In the United States, more than 90 percent of reported cases of rabies in animals occur in wildlife," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. "The wild animals that most commonly carry rabies in the United States are raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes."
Infected mammals can spread the virus by biting another animal or a human being. In rare cases, rabies can be spread when infected saliva gets into an open wound, or the mucous membranes, such as the mouth or eyes.
"An animal with rabies can also transmit the rabies virus through its saliva, which can come in contact with a person’s mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes) or can get in open wounds on the skin," said an official working with the Meriden Department of Health and Human Services.
"The disease manifests when the virus reaches the brain. It moves through the nerves from the bite site to the spinal cord before reaching the brain. Once the virus enters the brain the person can potentially transmit the virus to others when they come in contact with eye drops, saliva of the infected person," said Dr Sheeja Sugunan, a paediatric intensivist and assistant professor, Department of Paediatrics, Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.
The virus spreads to humans through the secretions of the affected animal — usually the saliva.
— Dr. Charles Livaudais, North Hills Animal Hospital.
The first symptoms of rabies can appear from a few days to more than a year after the bite happens; average is about two months.
Fever, headache, malaise, loss of appetite, vomiting, pain, itching, or numbness and tingling at the site of the wound are common symptoms during first stage of the disease.
Symptoms during the second stage include difficulty in swallowing, foaming at the mouth, agitation, disorientation and paralysis. Patient may go to coma or even die.
The first [symptom] is generally pain or tingling — like a bee sting... Soon after that, fever develops, followed by confusion [and] agitation. ... People eventually die from going into a coma.
— Emily Pieracci, veterinary epidemiologist for the CDC.
Tests are performed on samples of saliva, serum, spinal fluid, and skin biopsies of hair follicles at the nape of the neck.
Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, but treatment before this is very effective.
Wound cleansing, debridement, and careful exploration for foreign body (eg, broken tooth) are some activities performed by the doctor as soon as the wound is presented for treatment.
CDC recommends prophylaxis (protective treatment) after a wildlife bite from an animal suspected to have rabies.
Presence of rabies in all wildlife may be indicated by unprovoked aggression, impaired movement, paralysis, lack of coordination, unusually friendly behavior and/or disorientation.
World Health Organization (WHO), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have set a target for global dog-mediated human rabies elimination by 2030.
Vaccinate your dogs and cats against rabies. Do not allow them to roam unsupervised. Leave stray mammals alone.
In May 2019, Birgitte Kallestad, 24, a Norwegian woman died from rabies after she played with an infected puppy that she attempted to rescue while on vacation.
The puppy is thought to have infected her when it bit her (in February) after they took it back to their resort. Her family said she had sterilised the "small scrapes" given by the puppy as she played with it, but sought no more medical attention.
Dog bite victims should immediately wash their wounds with soap and water and consult with a doctor, who can advise whether anti-rabies shots are needed. Anti-rabies vaccine for human beings works only before the virus enters the nerves.
Avoid wild animals, even if they appear friendly. Do not feed them from your hand. Avoid keeping them as pets.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices released recommendations in 2010 for a reduced (4-dose) vaccine schedule for Post Exposure Prophylaxis to prevent human rabies.
"Rabies is best prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start," says Jeremy Eschliman, Two Rivers Public Health Department.
Authorities need to deploy rabies vaccine mobile vehicles. They may also be used to spread awareness about the disease.
“Many dogs do not have rabies symptoms as they are carriers, hence, the vaccination of stray dogs should be done. There should be more awareness among rabies even in families which own pets. In rural areas, if there are dogs that have rabies and they bite cattle, they may also get rabies. Through this infected cattle, humans can also catch the infection through skin aversion,” said Dr Prashant Salve, veterinary doctor and livestock development officer (extension), panchayat samiti, Ambegaon.
In November 2022, scientists developed a novel mRNA-based vaccine candidate against the rabies virus.
The vaccine induces a strong antibody response and exhibits high protective efficacy against lethal rabies infection in mice and dogs. A full report about the vaccine was published in the Virology Journal.
If we all take some time to tidy up around our homes, make sure our pets are current on their vaccinations, and leave wildlife alone, we can minimize the possibility of our families and pets becoming ill.
— Kaylan Stinson, Boulder County Public Health regional epidemiologist.
World Rabies Day
World Rabies Day is observed every year on September 28 to raise awareness about rabies prevention and to highlight progress in defeating this deadly disease.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Srikanth R
Srikanth R (author) on May 12, 2019:
Sad. She was infected by a puppy that she rescued.
Srikanth R (author) on May 12, 2019:
Liz Westwood from UK on May 11, 2019:
In the 1950s/early 1960s my mother came across rabies when she worked as a nurse in Rwanda. Recently I heard of a young Norwegian tourist who died from rabies after being bitten by a stray dog.