Rabies is a deadly disease which attacks the central nervous system. Found in the saliva of an infected animal, rabies is usually transmitted through bites or contact with infected saliva or tissues. Rabies occurs primarily in wild animals, but can be transmitted to domestic animals as well. Although potentially fatal, the disease can be treated with prompt treatment.
Humans generally contract rabies from the bite of wild or domestic animals. Rabies occurs only in mammals, and wild carriers of rabies include foxes, bats, bobcats, skunks, raccoons and groundhogs. Smaller animals such as mice, squirrels and chipmunks are rarely affected. Among domestic animals, cats and dogs account for the majority of rabies victims, although horses, cows, goats and sheep can be afflicted as well, often by the bite of rabies carrying bats.
Although most cases of rabies in humans and animals also occur through bites, the disease can also be transmitted in other ways. Animals who eat the tissue of an infected creature, particularly brain and neurological tissue, can be at risk or developing the disease. Among humans, a small but documented risk of rabies transmitted through transplant surgery has been reported. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that casual contact with a rabies victim or contact with non-infectious fluids such as urine or blood do not pose a risk.
Seek Medical Help
When rabies is suspected, victims are urged to seek medical attention promptly. Treatment includes treating bite wounds if needed and starting a regimen of immune globulin and rabies vaccine. A typical treatment regimen runs two weeks and consists of an initial injection of immune globulin followed by four shots of rabies vaccination over the 14 days of treatment. Although it is widely believed that rabies treatment is painful and intrusive, the CDC report that modern vaccinations generally cause no more discomfort than a flu vaccine.
Because rabies attacks the central nervous system and brain, infected animals generally display unusual behaviors, such as agitation and aggression. Wild animals who are normally shy and fearful around people may attack without provocation, or act disoriented and sick. Domestic animals may display unusual, often aggressive behaviors.
Anyone bitten by an animal suspected of having rabies needs to be seen by a doctor or an emergency room as soon as possible. Suspected rabies attacks must be reported to the local health department and animal control authorities, who will attempt to capture the animal.
Animals not showing symptoms of rabies may be placed under observation to rule out the possibility of the disease. Those with clear symptoms are euthanized and their brain tissue tested for evidence of the disease.
Although vaccinations can prevent rabies from developing, once symptoms manifest the survival rate is low. Careful attention to the behavior of wild and domestic animals, combined with prompt action if a bite occurs, can save lives.