Rabies is one of the deadliest viral diseases affecting mammals, including dogs and humans, stated Tammy Hunter, DVM, an Ernest Ward, DVM, or VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. It is caused by the rabies virus. The virus can be found across the globe such as in North America, Central and South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and some areas in Europe. There are some rabies-free areas in the world like Australia, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, and more.
Survey On the Perceptions of Rabies Risk (2018)
Cinzia Marano, PhD and colleagues of Oxford Academic, an open access research portal, surveyed individuals aged 18-65 years living in the UK, Germany, Canada, and Sweden who had traveled to rabies-endemic countries between 2013 and 2016. This group was defined as the rabies visit-risk sample.
The first 850 respondents from the visit-risk sample who engaged in at-risk activities (ex: contact with animals) completed another online questionnaire, including them in the activity-risk subsample. The visit-risk sample had 4,678 participants, with 33% of them seeking pre-travel health information online. Between 20% and 24% of the respondents talked to a family doctor or family/friends who had visited the same country.
Others read a guide book (16%) or visited a travel clinic (12%), a pharmacist (12%), or a healthcare center/private clinic/occupational health clinic (13%). About 16% said they demonstrated a good knowledge of rabies, they knew basic facts (35%), or had some understanding of rabies (32%). Only 4% have never heard of the disease. 43% of visit-risk travelers were aware of a rabies vaccines. Awareness rates were the lowest in Sweden (35%) and the highest in Germany (53%).
Within the activity-risk sample, 81% said they engaged in high-risk activity and completed the activity-risk questionnaire. While traveling, 48% of them spent a part or the entire trip in remote locations with difficult access to hospitals/medical centers. 55% had contact with animals while 59% spent 4 or more weeks in a rabies-endemic country.
90% of activity-risk respondents could identify at least one correct prevention measure. 78% of travelers were aware of the need to avoid contact with wild or stray animals, to wash the wound when bitten or scratched (47%), or to be vaccinated with PEP (40%). 43% said they avoid contact with domestic animals and 27% knew about PrEP vaccination. Alarmingly, 16% of the activity-risk sample did not take any measures to minimize their risk of rabies.
47% of travelers who were aware of PrEP had heard of it from their doctor and 29% knew about it from travel clinics. Other sources included online searches (26%), friends/family (25%), and the general media (17%). 17% of the activity-risk group previously received a rabies vaccine, 11% had been vaccinated three years prior to the survey. Most of them (8%) received PrEP rather than PEP (3%).
Following a healthcare provider’s advice was the main reason for 69% of travelers to be vaccinated (doctor 54% and travel clinic 35%), along with the traveler’s risk awareness (41%), their “own peace of mind” (24%), limited access to medical care during the trip (20%), or plans to participate in high-risk activities while traveling (18%). Among those vaccinated with rabies, 60% said they booked follow-up appointments to remind themselves of their vaccination schedule.
How Is Rabies Transmitted?
It is transmitted when an infected animal bites another. In Europe, rabies is transmitted by foxes and in North America, the sources of infection include skunks, raccoons, bats, coyotes, and foxes. Meanwhile, stray dogs are the main reservoir of infection in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Human infection and fatalities are more common in these regions.
After being bitten, the rabies virus enters the host animal’s peripheral nerves—which refers to any nerves that are outside the brain and spinal cord. This is when the virus reproduces and spreads to the salivary glands. The rabies virus is shed in the saliva and it does not survive long outside the body of a mammal.
How Long Is the Incubation Period?
It can vary from 10 days to one year or more. In dogs, it is usually two weeks to four months. The speed at which symptoms manifest depend on the site of infection. For example, if the bite is closer to the brain and spinal cord, the faster the virus will reach the nervous tissue. The incubation period also depends on the severity of the bite and the amount of virus injected.
What Are the Signs of Rabies?
In the prodromal phase, your dog undergoes a change in temperament. If your dog is quiet, it may become agitated and if you have an active dog, it may become nervous or shy. This period lasts for two to three days. After the prodromal phase, there are two recognized forms of rabies: furious rabies and dumb rabies
Furious rabies is when the infected dog becomes highly excitable, aggressive, and has a depraved appetite. Dogs are also known to eat and chew stones, rubbish, and earth. Paralysis occurs, making the animal unable to eat or drink. Hydrophobia is not a sign of rabies in dogs rather, it is a sign of human rabies. The animal dies in a violent seizure. Dumb rabies commonly occurs in dogs. Gradual paralysis of the limbs, distortion of the face, and difficulty in swallowing occurs. The infected dog becomes comatose and dies.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Dog
Keep your dog’s rabies vaccine up to date, recommended American Humane, an organization committed to ensuring the safety, welfare, and well-being of animals. Puppies (and kittens) should be vaccinated at 12 weeks and when they turn one. For the rest of their lives, they should be vaccinated every three years.
In the US and Canada, rabies vaccination is required. Rabies revaccination boosters are also mandated and the frequency of revaccination depends on state or provincial law. Consult your veterinarian if your pet was bitten by an unknown animal or comes in contact with a wild animal even when it is not wounded. If you are bitten by a domestic or wild animal, consult a professional immediately.
Rabies is a deadly infection that can affect dogs and humans. Exercise caution and have your dog vaccinated against rabies. If you suspect that your or your pet has rabies, it is strongly recommended to speak to a professional.