What is Rabies?

Rabies is an acute fatal disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. The infectious agent is the rabies virus. The incubation period is usually 3-8 weeks, and may range from a few days to one year. Symptoms include malaise, headache, fever and abnormal skin sensations. These are followed after a few days by hyperactivity, disorientation, severe and painful muscle spasm(especially of the throat leading to fear of water), difficulty in breathing, paralysis, coma and death.

How does it spread?

Rabies is transmitted to human by the bite of a rabid animal, especially dogs, bats, and foxes. Virus laden saliva of an infected animal is introduced by bite or scratch. Spread from person to person is theoretically possible since the saliva of the infected person may contain virus, but has not been documented.

How can you prevent it?

You should avoid stray animals, including dogs, cats, monkeys. Immunization (both pre-exposure and post-exposure), combined with thorough wound cleaning, is the most reliable methods of preventing rabies. Pre-exposure immunization is done by giving 3 doses of vaccine on days 0, 7, and 21 or 28, followed, if necessary, with the first booster dose in 12 months, and then later boosters every 2 years. Pre-exposure immunization is recommended for prolonged trips to endemic areas, particularly for travelling to remote rural regions without medical facilities. It is also recommended for people who may only travel for a short period in rabies infected areas but are engaged in activities with special risks (e.g. hiking, biking, trekking and animal handling). However pre-exposure immunization does not eliminate the need for post-exposure immunization.

How is it treated?

There is no definite treatment for Rabies presently and the disease is invariably fatal. Therefore it is very important that after being bitten by animals suspected of having Rabies, one must wash the wound thoroughly with clean water and soap or detergent immediately and then seek medical attention early. Standard treatment would include:-

  • Thorough cleaning of wound, usually without suturing.

  • Post-exposure immunization against rabies to be considered according to circumstances, e.g. whether the animal could be observed, presence of Rabies in the areas, etc.

  • Tetanus booster or antibiotic may be needed in addition.



Last revision date: 10 October 2012