Rabies is a viral infection of certain warm-blooded animals and is caused by a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family. It attacks the nervous system and, once symptoms develop, it is 100 percent fatal in animals, if left untreated.
In North America, rabies occurs mainly in skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats. In some areas, these wild animals infect domestic cats, dogs, and livestock. In the United States, cats are more likely than dogs to be rabid.
Individual states maintain information about animals that may carry rabies. It is best to check for region specific information if you are unsure about a specific animal and have been bitten.
The rabies virus enters the body through a cut or scratch, or through mucous membranes (such as the lining of the mouth and eyes), and travels to the central nervous system. Once the infection reaches the brain, the virus travels into the nerves and multiplies in different organs.
The salivary glands and organs are most important in the spread of rabies from one animal to another. When an infected animal bites another animal, the rabies virus is transmitted through the infected animal's saliva. Scratches by claws of rabid animals are also dangerous because these animals lick their claws.
The incubation in humans from the time of exposure to the onset of illness can range anywhere from five days to more than a year, although the average incubation period is about two months. The following are the most common symptoms of rabies. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Rabies: Stage 1
Rabies: Stage 2
The symptoms of rabies may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
In animals, a test called direct fluorescent antibody test (dFA) is often used to detect rabies. Test results are usually known within a few hours. Knowing these results may save a child from undergoing treatment if the animal is not rabid.
In humans, a number of tests are needed to confirm or rule out rabies, as no single test can be used to rule out the disease with certainty. Tests are performed on samples of serum, saliva, spinal fluid, and skin biopsies taken from the nape of the neck.
Your child's physician will determine specific treatment for rabies. Unfortunately, there is no known, effective treatment for rabies once symptoms of the disease occur. However, there is an effective new vaccine that provides immunity to rabies when given after an exposure. It may also be used for protection before an exposure occurs, for persons such as veterinarians and animal handlers.
Being safe around animals, even your own pets, can help reduce the risk of animal bites. Some general guidelines for avoiding animal bites and rabies include the following:
Teaching your child about animal safety may also help to prevent animal bites. Some things to remember include the following:
If you or someone you know has been bitten by an animal, remember to report the following facts to your healthcare provider: