Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain, and death. Rabies is found in 150 countries around the world, and there are 55,000 rabies-related deaths per year. It is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted between different species (dogs to humans), which usually happens through a bite or deep scratch. Raccoons and skunks are two main culprits for transmitting the rabies virus (bats and foxes also carry and transfer), but it is their transmitting to dogs that has the highest consequences to humans because 97% of rabies in humans come from dog bites. Knowing the most common way of getting rabies, and how the incubation and symptoms progress will be most helpful in protecting yourself and quickly responding to infection. A strong preventative measure is to get a pre-exposure immunization shot. This is especially recommended for world travelers and people who are often outdoors for long durations. Also, vaccinating your pets, and keeping yourself and your pets protected from contact with wild animals will be helpful.
Knowing how rabies works will help you know how to respond, as it is crucial to take action as early as possible. Once rabies symptoms show up, it may be too late for treatment to be effective, and likelihood of death is high. Rabies progresses through three stages. The first Prodromal stage lasts for 2-4 days, and symptoms include fever, malaise, nausea and anxiety. In the second stage, called the Furious stage, rabies symptoms intensify. The disease will cause hyperactivity, viciousness, hydrophobia, and cardiac arrhythmia. In the final Paralytic stage, the patient will experience apathy, disorientation, and muscle paralysis spreading from the original wound. Eventually, coma and respiratory failure will lead to death.
Know that there are steps you can take if bitten. First, capture or kill the infected animal, keeping the brain and head intact. Clean your wound right away by washing thoroughly with soap and water, which will greatly decrease the chance for infection. Immediately go to the doctor or to the hospital where you can receive a series of fast-acting rabies immune globulin shots. You can also get a series of rabies vaccines, which are 5 shots in 2 weeks. Every year, 15 million people get post-exposure rabies vaccines, and this has prevented hundreds of thousands of rabies-related deaths annually.