Rabies is a very common, and very deadly virus that is spread in the saliva of animals. All mammals are susceptible to rabies, and humans generally get rabies from licks, bites and scratches of infected animals like dogs, bats, foxes and racoons. Rabies is found everywhere in the world where mammals can survive, and can be spread by all mammals. However, 99% of cases are spread by domestic dogs. For this reason, many developed countries spend resources on vaccines to prevent the spread of rabies to domestic animals. The rabies virus affects the central nervous system and will ultimately result in brain disease and death, meaning that it is very lethal, and prevention is incredibly important.
What are the Symptoms of Rabies?
Rabies has a long incubation period, before symptoms show. After being bitten the incubation period may be anywhere from 1-3 months, but in some circumstances may take as little as a week, and as long as a year. This depends on where the virus entered your body and viral load. Once symptoms are experienced, rabies is lethal in
The initial symptoms of rabies include a fever with pain, unusual or unexpected tingling, prickling or burning at the wound site. As the virus spreads through your nervous system fatal and progressive inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develop, and different symptoms show. There are two forms of the disease:
Furious Rabies: Which usually progresses faster, and includes symptoms such as hyperactivity, excitability, hydrophobia, sometimes aerophobia and eventual death due to cardio-respiratory arrest.
Paralytic Rabies: Is a less common form and accounts for about 30% of rabies cases. This form of rabies lasts longer, as muscles become gradually paralyzed starting at the location of bite or scratch. Eventually a death inducing coma will occur. This form of rabies is often misdiagnosed, and under-reported.
Who is Most at Risk for Contraction of Rabies?
Rabies can occur anywhere in the world, and travellers may come into contact with wild or domestic animals during their trip. Those most at risk are travellers spending time outdoors, such as campers, cavers and hikers, people who work with animals, and long-term travellers. Rabies carries the same risk anywhere in the world, but travellers to rural areas are more at risk. Children are also generally more at risk due to the likelihood of playing with wild animals, and not reporting bites or scratches. Travellers to portions of the world where vaccinations in domestic animals are not common are more at risk than others.
As access to preventative treatment is difficult, rates of rabies related deaths are higher in portions of developing countries such as Africa, Asia, Central and South America. If you are travelling to a country where there is an increased risk of rabies, especially in dogs, a vaccination is recommended. If your activities will include contact with animals, consider a pre-exposure rabies vaccination.
How Can Rabies Be Prevented?
Due to the almost certain lethality of rabies, prevention is of the utmost importance. Pre-exposure rabies vaccination is effective, but immediate medical treatment upon being bitten or scratched is the only way to ensure you will not develop symptoms. To fully prevent rabies get the pre-exposure vaccine and take measures to avoid contact with animals. Pre-exposure rabies vaccine consist of three shots and you will need a minimum of three weeks’ time to receive all the three doses as otherwise, it will not be effective.
Other measures to prevent rabies is to avoid touching wild animals, and even domestic ones as pets in other countries may not have received the vaccination. To prevent rabies in children, supervise them around wildlife and prevent them from playing with wild animals. If you are travelling with pets, prevent straying and do not allow your pet to play with local animals. As many animals do not show symptoms for several days, weeks or even months, you may not be aware that an animal you are bringing back with you is infected until it is too late.
You may also want to consider medical evacuation insurance if traveling to at-risk areas, so that in the event of a bite you will receive the immediate care required to prevent rabies.
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Rabies information. Retrieved from: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/rabies
Government of Canada (2017), Travel and health safety information: Rabies. Retrieved from: https://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/az-index-eng.php#rabies
World Health Organization (2015). Rabies, countries or areas at risk. Retrieved from: https://gamapserver.who.int/mapLibrary/Files/Maps/Global_Rabies_ITHRiskMap.png?ua=1
World Health Organization (2017), Rabies information. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/