Rabies: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment


Rabies - Rabied fox - Modern HealthMe, Healthline, WebMD

Rabies remains a formidable threat to both humans and animals worldwide.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is typically transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The virus belongs to the genus Lyssavirus and is primarily found in mammals.

How does it Transmit to Humans?

Transmission to humans occurs through the saliva of infected animals, commonly through bites. The virus enters the body through broken skin or mucous membranes. In rare cases, transmission can occur through contact with infected saliva on mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Cause of Rabies:

1. Virus Infection:

  • Viral Agent: This disease is exclusively caused by the rabies virus, a neurotropic virus belonging to the family Rhabdoviridae and genus Lyssavirus.
  • Genetic Makeup: The causative virus contains single-stranded RNA as its genetic material, encapsulated within a bullet-shaped protein coat.
  • Pathogenesis: The virus primarily targets the nervous system, leading to progressive encephalitis and neurological symptoms characteristic of rabies infection.

2. Animal Reservoirs:

  • Natural Hosts: Domestic and wild animals serve as reservoirs for the rabies virus, maintaining its circulation in nature.
  • Primary Reservoirs: Among domestic animals, dogs are the primary reservoirs in many regions, while wildlife species such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes serve as significant reservoirs in other areas.
  • Transmission Dynamics: The virus is transmitted between animals through bites, scratches, or contact with infected saliva, facilitating its spread within and between species.

3. Modes of Transmission to Humans:

  • Animal Exposure: Human rabies cases result from exposure to infected animals, typically through bites or scratches that introduce the virus into the victim’s tissues.
  • Entry Points: The virus gains entry into the human body through breaches in the skin or mucous membranes, allowing it to infect peripheral nerves and spread to the central nervous system.
  • Rare Transmission Routes: While most cases result from direct contact with infected animals, rare cases of airborne transmission have been reported, particularly in settings with high concentrations of viral particles, such as bat caves or laboratory accidents.

4. Factors Influencing Human Infection Risk:

  • Geographic Distribution: The risk of rabies exposure varies geographically, with higher prevalence in regions where the virus is endemic among animal populations.
  • Occupational Hazards: Individuals with occupations involving frequent contact with animals, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, and wildlife biologists, face an elevated risk of rabies exposure.
  • Behavioral Factors: Activities such as camping, hiking, or exploring caves increase the likelihood of encountering rabies-infected wildlife, particularly in areas with known reservoir populations.

Signs and Symptoms:

Rabies presents itself in two main stages: prodromal and furious.

1. Prodromal Stage:

  • Early Symptoms: The prodromal stage typically lasts 2 to 10 days and is characterized by nonspecific flu-like symptoms.
  • Signs and Symptoms:
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Malaise
    • Fatigue
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Pain or tingling at the site of the bite or exposure

2. Furious (Encephalitic) Stage:

  • Onset: The furious stage usually follows the prodromal phase and lasts for 2 to 7 days.
  • Clinical Features:
    • Hyperactivity and agitation
    • Irritability and aggression
    • Hallucinations and delirium
    • Hydrophobia (fear of water) due to painful spasms of the throat muscles
    • Aerophobia (fear of drafts or air) due to painful spasms of the respiratory muscles
  • Neurological Symptoms:
    • Seizures
    • Hypersalivation (excessive drooling)
    • Paralysis, particularly of the facial and throat muscles

3. Paralytic (Dumb) Stage:

  • Appearance: The paralytic stage may follow the furious stage or occur directly after the prodromal phase.
  • Characteristics:
    • Muscle Weakness: Progressive weakness and paralysis, starting from the site of the bite or exposure and spreading to other parts of the body.
    • Loss of Coordination: Difficulty walking or moving due to muscle weakness and paralysis.
    • Respiratory Failure: Paralysis of the respiratory muscles leads to respiratory distress and ultimately respiratory failure, which is the primary cause of death in Human-rabies cases.

4. Terminal Stage:

  • Presentation: The terminal stage of rabies is marked by severe neurological dysfunction and coma.
  • Clinical Decline:
    • Profound unconsciousness
    • Loss of brainstem reflexes
    • Respiratory arrest
    • Death typically occurs within 7 to 10 days from the onset of symptoms, although the duration may vary.

How to Prevent Rabies?

Preventing rabies primarily involves vaccination and avoiding contact with potentially infected animals. Vaccination is crucial for both pets and livestock. Furthermore, individuals should refrain from approaching or handling wild animals and seek medical attention promptly after animal bites or scratches.


1. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis:

  • Definition: Pre-exposure prophylaxis involves administering the rabies vaccine to individuals who are at high risk of exposure to rabies.
  • Indications: People in occupations with frequent exposure to animals, travelers to high-risk regions, and individuals with certain medical conditions.
  • Regimens:
    • Primary series: Three doses of rabies vaccine on days 0, 7, and 21 or 28.
    • Booster doses: Recommended every 2 to 3 years for continued protection.

2. Post-Exposure Prophylaxis:

  • Definition: Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) involves administering rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin (RIG) after exposure to the rabies virus.
  • Indications: Individuals who have been bitten, scratched, or otherwise exposed to a potentially rabid animal.
  • Regimens:
    • Category I Exposure: No PEP required.
    • Category II Exposure: Rabies vaccine only, no RIG.
    • Category III Exposure:
    • Rabies vaccine: Five doses on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28.
    • Rabies immunoglobulin: Administered once, as soon as possible after exposure, infiltrated around the wound.

3. Treatment:

  • Definition: Once clinical symptoms of Disease appear, the disease is almost invariably fatal. Treatment is primarily supportive to alleviate symptoms and provide comfort.
  • Management:
    • Symptom management: Pain relief, sedation, and hydration.
    • Respiratory support: Mechanical ventilation may be necessary as the disease progresses.
    • Prevention of complications: Preventing secondary infections and providing psychological support to the patient and their family.

In summary, rabies is a lethal viral disease that poses significant risks to both humans and animals.

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