DefinitionRabies is an infection that affects the brain and spine. Rabies is almost always fatal unless treated before symptoms appear.
|The Nervous System|
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CausesRabies is caused by a virus. It is found in infected, warm-blooded animals. Animals that commonly carry the virus include:
Risk FactorsThe only risk factor is contact with an infected animal.In most parts of the United States, any contact with a bat may be considered a rabies risk factor. Seek medical advice if you find a bat anywhere inside your home.
SymptomsSymptoms often start within 3-7 weeks. In some cases, the virus can incubate up to 1 or more years. Death usually occurs within a week after symptoms appear.Symptoms in humans may include:
- Pain, tingling, or itching at the site of the bite wound or other site of viral entry
- Stiff muscles
- Increased production of thick saliva
- Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, fatigue, nausea
- Painful spasms and contractions of the throat when exposed to water
- Erratic, excited, or bizarre behavior
DiagnosisIf you think you have been exposed to rabies, see a doctor or contact a public health official right away.If the animal is available and appears well, it will be kept under observation to monitor its health. If no symptoms develop, you are not at risk for rabies. If the animal is sick or dead, it may be examined for the presence of the virus. In the meantime, you may be advised to begin treatment.If the animal is unavailable, treatment may be given. The decision to give treatment maybe based on factors such as:
- Animal's species
- Where the encounter took place
TreatmentIf an animal has bitten you, immediately do the following:
- Wash the wound right away with plenty of soap and water. It is the most important first step you can take in preventing rabies.
- Call your doctor or seek care in an emergency room.
Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG)This is given within 24 hours after exposure. It contains large amounts of antibodies to inactivate or destroy the rabies virus. In most cases, half of the dose is injected into the wound and surrounding tissue. The rest is given into a muscle. If you have previously received the rabies vaccine, you may not need the HRIG shot.
Rabies VaccinesRabies vaccines make your immune system create antibodies against the virus. These antibodies will live in your body for many years. The vaccine is delivered in several shots over the next several weeks. The vaccine will be injected into your muscles. There are several types of rabies vaccines available including the:
- Human diploid cell vaccine (HDCV)
- Purified chick embryo cell vaccine (PCECV)
PreventionTo help prevent rabies:
- Vaccinate house pets.
- Avoid contact with wild animals.
- Do not touch any wild animal. Avoid it even if it appears to be dead.
- Seal basement, porch, and attic openings. This will prevent an animal from entering your home.
- Report any animal to your local animal control if it is acting strange or appears sick.
- If you often come in contact with potentially rabid animals, get the rabies vaccine before exposure. Booster doses are often needed.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Public Health Agency of Canada
Rabies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies. Updated September 24, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2015.
Rabies. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 13, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2015.
3/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Use of a reduced (4-dose) vaccine schedule for postexposure prophylaxis to prevent human rabies. . 2010;59(2):1.
- Reviewer: David L Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 01/2015
- Update Date: 01/13/2014