Rabies

Rabies is a viral infection which affects, and is carried by, warm-blooded animals (mammals), including bats. Once a person has been infected, the virus travels to the brain and spinal cord. By the time symptoms in humans appear, rabies is invariably fatal, as there is no cure.

Symptoms

Fever, headache, fatigue, tingling, prickling or burning at the site of the wound initially, progressing to agitation, muscle spasms, coma.

How do you catch rabies?

Rabies is spread through bites, scratches and licks from infected animals, including to the eyes, nose or mouth. Dog bites are the most common cause of human infection.

Incubation period

usually between 3 and 12 weeks, but can range from 4 days to 1 year, or longer. Bites or scratches to the head, neck, face and fingers tend to have shorter incubation periods.

Diagnosis

There is no current test for rabies before symptoms start, but when they do the virus can be detected in saliva, spinal fluid, urine and brain tissue. Often the diagnosis is confirmed after death.

Prevention

Travellers should avoid contact with all animals during travel, including pets. Never approach, handle or feed animals while travelling. A pre-exposure course of three vaccines is available for travellers.

Treatment

For all bites, scratches or licks: thoroughly wash the area with soap and water for several minutes, cover the wound, then seek urgent medical attention. Post exposure vaccines may be required. The number of vaccines needed will depend on how many pre-exposure vaccines have been given. Rabies immunoglobulin injection may also be advised.