Rabies is a preventable viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of humans and other warm-blooded mammals. Tragically, rabies is not curable once symptoms start occurring, and death typically occurs within days after these first symptoms appear. Fortunately, rabies can be prevented, and the disease is also treatable if individuals promptly receive vaccine injections following exposure. Bites from infected wild animals are the most common mode of rabies transmission in the United States, while domestic dogs remain the leading carrier of the disease in other parts of the world.
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All animal bites pose a potential risk for rabies, thus medical treatment should be sought immediately. Once in the body, the rabies virus multiplies as its travels through the nervous system, eventually leading to a fatal inflammation of the brain. Early symptoms of rabies such as coughing, fatigue, fever, headaches and a sore throat usually emerge weeks after a person is infected.
Rabies cases have been reported in every state except Hawaii. The disease also is found in many other nations around the world. While human cases of rabies are rare, more than £195 million is spent annually in the United States on detection, prevention and control of rabies. In the U.S., about 40,000 people receive rabies vaccine injections every year after being bitten by animals.
Almost every case of rabies was fatal until Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux developed the first vaccine for the disease in 1885. The number of rabies-related human deaths in the U.S. has dropped from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to the current figure of one or two per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before 1960, the majority of animals infected with rabies in the United States were domestic animals. Today more than 90 per cent of cases involve wild animals like bats, foxes, raccoons and skunks.
After a person is infected with the rabies virus, symptoms usually appear within 1 to 3 months, though the disease may remain dormant for as long as several years in rare cases.
With the onset of the first flu-like symptoms, rabies progresses rapidly. An infected individual may experience hallucinations, a fear of water called hydrophobia and partial paralysis. As the disease advances, the person slips into a coma and dies.
All pets and livestock should receive regular rabies vaccinations. Anyone who suffers an animal bite should promptly seek medical attention.
Animals infected with the rabies virus act differently than healthy animals. They may produce an increase in saliva and exhibit aggression and hostility. Other animals will show signs of paralysis. To stay safe, never approach an animal that appears ill or is behaving oddly.
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