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Rabies Transmitted From Animals to Humans

Rabies is a viral infection transmitted to humans from animals. Without treatment, it is fatal. Prevention and treatment are available and should be discussed with a doctor before departure.

What is rabies?

It is a serious viral disease that mainly affects animals, but can also affect humans. Rabies comes from the Latin word meaning “to enrage”, as rabid animals can appear annoyed and angry. Most animal outbreaks include cats, dogs, livestock, skunks, raccoons, bats, and rodents. Only mammals can contract this disease. Every year, 50,000 people worldwide die from the disease.

How is rabies transmitted?

This disease is transmitted to humans by a bite or skin puncture from an infected animal. This virus is present in the animal’s saliva. This virus is strongly attracted to the nervous system and can travel to the spinal cord and brain.

What are the symptoms?

About a month or two after a rabid animal bite, people complain of fever, headache, fatigue and decreased appetite. There may also be pain or numbness at the site of the bite. One to two weeks later, nerve damage may occur with mental changes, hallucinations, seizures, and paralysis. Patients may develop severe pain upon swallowing fluids. They complain of deep thirst, but avoid water. This is called hydrophobia or fear of water, which is another name for rabies. Without treatment, the disease is fatal.

How is rabies diagnosed?

If a person is bitten, it is extremely helpful if the animal can be quarantined. The animal can then be observed and tested for infection, which, if negative, will eliminate the diagnosis of this disease. If the animal cannot be isolated, then the doctor may have to assume that the disease may have been transmitted, depending on the particular circumstances.

Rabies should be suspected when a person exhibits the symptoms listed in the section above, particularly when neurological problems are present. Many doctors, however, may not consider this disease as they have probably never seen a case in their career. Specialized medical centers can test the patient’s saliva, blood and spinal fluid to make the diagnosis.

Is there a cure available?

Fortunately, yes. In rabies, a vaccine is actually part of the treatment. Most vaccinations, such as hepatitis and yellow fever vaccines, are given to prevent disease. This vaccine is given after exposure even if there was a vaccination before exposure. In addition to the vaccine, antibodies to this disease called rabies immune globulin (RIG) are recommended to help fight the infection. Although vaccine and RIG are necessary, immediate and thorough cleaning of the wound area with soap and water is critical. Urgent medical attention is recommended.

Can rabies be prevented?

The risk can be minimized. Make sure your pets are vaccinated against this disease. In addition, avoid contact with unknown and stray animals. If you are bitten or scratched by a friendly kitty roaming your neighborhood, capture the cat and call your doctor.

Should international travelers be protected?

Rabies is a major health problem in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America. Stray animals, both domestic and wild, can often be encountered abroad, especially in the developing world. Furthermore, appropriate treatment in many of these areas can be difficult to achieve. Travelers should discuss their itinerary in detail with their travel physician prior to departure to assess their risk of exposure to this and other preventable infectious diseases. There are cases where your travel doctor may recommend a vaccine before departure. Travelers heading to destinations where rabies is endemic should have a plan in place in case of exposure.

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