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Rabies Transmitted From Animals to Humans
Rabies is a viral infection transmitted to humans from animals. Without treatment, it is fatal. Prevention and treatment are available and should be discussed with a doctor before departure.
What is rabies?
It is a serious viral disease that mainly affects animals, but can also affect humans. Rabies is derived from the Latin meaning “to rage”, as rabid animals can appear disturbed and angry. Most animal cases include cats, dogs, cattle, skunks, raccoons, bats, and rodents. Only mammals can contract this disease. Every year, 50,000 people around the world die from the disease.
How is rabies transmitted?
This disease is transmitted to humans by a bite or skin puncture from an infected animal. This virus is present in the animal’s saliva. This virus is strongly attracted to the nervous system and can travel to the spinal cord and brain.
What are the symptoms?
About a month or two after a bite from a rabid animal, humans complain of fever, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite. There may also be pain or numbness at the bite site. One to two weeks later, nerve damage may appear with mental changes, hallucinations, seizures and paralysis. Patients may develop severe pain when swallowing liquids. They complain of a deep thirst, but they avoid water. This is called hydrophobia or fear of water, which is another name for rabies. Without treatment, the disease is fatal.
How is rabies diagnosed?
If a person is bitten, it is extremely useful that the animal can be quarantined. Then the animal can be observed and tested for the infection which, if negative, would rule out the diagnosis of that disease. If the animal cannot be isolated, the physician may need to assume that the disease may have been transmitted, depending on the particular circumstances.
Rabies should be suspected when an individual exhibits the symptoms listed in the section above, particularly when neurological problems are present. Many physicians, however, might not consider this disease as they have probably never seen a case in their career. Specialized medical centers can perform tests on the patient’s saliva, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid to establish the diagnosis.
Is treatment available?
Fortunately, yes. In the case of rabies, a vaccine is actually part of the treatment. Most vaccinations, such as hepatitis and yellow fever vaccines, are given to prevent disease. This vaccine is administered after the exposure even if there was vaccination before the exposure. In addition to the vaccine, antibodies against this disease called rabies immunoglobulins (IGR) are recommended to help fight the infection. Although vaccination and RIG are essential, immediate and thorough cleaning of the wound site with soap and water is essential. Urgent medical attention is strongly advised.
Can rabies be prevented?
The risk can be minimized. Make sure your pets have been vaccinated against this disease. Also, avoid contact with unknown and stray animals. If you are bitten or scratched by a stray cuddly kitten in your neighborhood, capture the cat and call your doctor.
Should international travelers be protected?
Rabies is a major health problem in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. Stray animals, both domestic and wild, can be frequently encountered abroad, especially in developing countries. Additionally, proper treatment in many of these areas can be difficult to obtain. Travelers should discuss their itinerary in detail with their travel physician prior to departure to assess the risk of exposure to this disease and other preventable infectious diseases. There are circumstances where your travel doctor may recommend a vaccination before departure. Travelers heading to destinations where rabies is present should have a plan in place in case of exposure.
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