Rabies is a viral disease affecting animals. The disease gets transmitted to human beings through the bite of an infected animal. In case the patient bitten by a rabid animal is not treated immediately, the infection can turn out to be fatal, as the rabies virus can travel to the brain through the nerves and cause acute inflammation of the brain. However, prompt medical treatment and immunisation can give complete protection against this virus.
As a result of regular vaccination programmes rabies is a rare disease in the developed world. In fact, countries like Australia, Japan and the UK are totally free from this illness. However, in many parts of Asia and Africa and in some parts of America, rabies is yet to be eradicated.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease i.e. a disease that is transmitted from animals to people. The virus enters the human body through the bite of an infected animal. In rare cases, the virus can spread if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with bruised skin or an open wound of a healthy individual. Generally, dogs, rats and raccoons are the hosts of this virus, and when they bite a person, the virus gets transmitted. Some animals infected with the virus salivate excessively and become quite aggressive.
The symptoms of the viral infection start to appear in between two to eight weeks from the bite. The incubation period may even last for months. Initially, there may be flu-like symptoms. If the infection reaches the brain, the effect is invariably fatal. The patient may suffer from paralysis of face and throat muscles, disorientation, unconsciousness, and paralysis of limbs. The person may feel extremely thirsty, but at the same time, he might have developed hydrophobia or fear of water, and painful throat spasms may result in inability to swallow even water. All these conditions may take the situation from worse to worst and can even lead to death.
If a person gets bitten by a stray animal, he must be taken to the doctor immediately. No tests are available to diagnose rabies infection in humans. Unless the symptoms like hydrophobia appear clinical diagnosis may be difficult. Effective treatment given immediately after exposure to rabies virus can prevent the onset of symptoms. The treatment comprises of injections of rabies immunoglobulin followed by a vaccination course for a period of 28 days to stimulate production of more antibodies. Late or inappropriate treatment is, in most of the cases, fatal. In extreme cases treatment is given only to limit the patient’s pain and suffering.
Vaccination is available against the rabies virus. But unlike other immunizations, the rabies vaccine is administered after exposure to the virus. People who have to deal with animals on a regular basis must get vaccinated. Also, if one is travelling to a place where rabies is an endemic disease it is advisable to get vaccinated on the recommendation of a doctor. Pets should also be vaccinated at prescribed intervals so that they don’t get infected by the virus.