Preventing Death by Rabies
Thu, April 22, 2021

Preventing Death by Rabies

We love our pets to death, but if we’re not careful with them, they can spread certain diseases to humans--diseases such as rabies / Photo by: artman1 via 123RF

 

We love our pets to death, but if we’re not careful with them, they can spread certain diseases to humans--diseases such as rabies. 

Rabies still kills, even if cases of this disease are rare in most nations. A human death from rabies is tragic and can happen anytime by accident, which is why whether you are a pet owner, a parent, an outdoor adventurer, or a global explorer, there are certain steps you need to take to keep yourself, your family, and your friends safe throughout the year. Be informed, be prepared, and be alert.

All About Rabies

Dogs are responsible for 99% of rabies cases in humans, mostly because of their close proximity and relationship as family pets, with more than 59,000 people worldwide dying of rabies each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In other words, 1 person dies of rabies every 9 minutes despite being a rare disease in most developed nations and even in the US. Most of the deaths from rabies come from Asia and Africa, with half of victims below the age of 15. Although it is important to know that not all dog bites cause rabies, all dog bites should still be treated with a rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin, unless you know that the dog has been vaccinated in the last year.

Dogs are responsible for 99% of rabies cases in humans, mostly because of their close proximity and relationship as family pets, with more than 59,000 people worldwide dying of rabies each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / Photo by: parilovv via 123RF

 

Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease, an infectious disease that is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can spread between animals and humans usually transmitted to humans by a bite or close contact with affected live animals or carcasses. Rabies is often contracted and transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, in the form of biting, licking, or saliva on open wounds, scratching, and anything that causes the skin to become red and raised.

Rabies causes progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord in two forms: furious rabies, characterized by hyperactivity and hallucinations, or paralytic rabies, characterized by paralysis and a coma. Even if rabies is fatal, this is entirely avoidable with the use of vaccines, medicines, and technology. If it goes untreated, the severity of this may reach levels of a coma and eventually death from lung failure. 

To tell if a dog or an animal has rabies is difficult, and it is usually diagnosed by taking brain samples after the animal dies. But, in any case, animals that show furious symptoms are those that exhibit unusual restlessness, snap at invisible objects, aimlessly run and bite, excessively salivate, become aggressive unprovoked, and have uncoordinated movements and paralysis. 

Other Cases of Rabies

Each year, the CDC collects information about human and animal rabies. In 2017, 49 states in the US and Puerto Rico reported 4,454 cases of rabies in animals and 2 human rabies cases; this was a decrease in number by 9.3% compared to 2016, which had 4,910 rabid animals and 0 human cases.

Wild animals accounted for 91% of reported cases in rabies and domestic animals accounted for 9%. Bats were the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species accounting for 32.2% of cases in 2017, followed by raccoons at 28.6%, skunks at 21.1% and foxes at 7%. The Minnesota Department of Health found that bats and skunks are the natural carriers of rabies. As the rabies levels in skunks drop, so do those in domestic animals. It is believed that most domestic animals get rabies from skunks and bats. It was also found that almost half of skunks (out of 714 tested), among the majority of wild animals, tested positive for rabies.

Moreover, the study validated that domestic animals rarely test positive for rabies compared to wild animals. Roughly 8% of 881 cattle tested positive, 3% of 10,759 bats and 123 foxes tested positive, 2% of 335 horses tested positive, with 1% of 11,221 cats and 10,475 dogs testing positive, and almost 0.5% of 1,161 raccoons testing positive.

Symptoms and Prevention

The incubation period for rabies is typically two to three months, but may also take between 1 week to 1 year depending on location and virus load. Initial symptoms include fever with pain, tingling, pricking, or burning sensations around the wound area. As the virus spreads to the central nervous system, inflammation of the brain and the spinal cord develops.

There are two forms of the disease, with people experiencing furious rabies exhibiting signs of hyperactivity, excitable behavior, hydrophobia (fear of water) and sometimes aerophobia (fear of draft or fresh air). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), death typically follows after a few days due to cardiorespiratory arrest. Paralytic rabies accounts for 20% of all rabies cases. It is less dramatic and lasts for a longer period. In this kind of rabies, muscles become paralyzed starting in the area with the bite or scratch, slowly developing into a coma, and eventually death. This type of rabies is often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Treating rabies comes after the bite or the exposure, with the post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This is done immediately after exposure and prevents entry of the disease in the body. A series of actions can be done with PEP including extensive washing after exposure, potent and effective rabies vaccines that meet WHO standards, and administration of immunoglobulin. Effective treatment after exposure can prevent the onset of symptoms.

Preventing rabies starts at the source: eliminating rabies in dogs. Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease, with vaccination of dogs as the most cost-effective strategy eliminating the need for PEP or vaccinations in humans. 

Preventing rabies starts at the source: eliminating rabies in dogs. Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease, with vaccination of dogs as the most cost-effective strategy eliminating the need for PEP or vaccinations in humans / Photo by: Iurii Golub via 123RF