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Rabies is a deadly, but preventable, disease that is specific to mammals. The vast majority of cases are transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 per cent of all reported rabies cases in the United States occur in wild animals such as skunks, raccoons and bats, although domestic animals such as pet cats and dogs, as well as domestic cattle, are susceptible to the disease. Because the early symptoms of rabies in humans can be indeterminate, it is imperative that bites from suspected infected animals be treated as if they had rabies.
The rabies virus is typically transmitted through the saliva of an infected host. Although this saliva can be introduced to an uninfected person or animal through contact with contaminated mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth, the most common means of spreading the disease is through a bite from an infected host. The rabies virus is virulent when it resides in a warm-blooded host's body. However, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, once outside the body, the virus quickly loses its ability to infect a new host. The virus is considered inert once the saliva in which it resides becomes dry. How long this takes is dependent upon a number of different environmental conditions, including temperature and wind, and can range from 30 minutes outside on a hot, dry day to several days if the saliva is in a temperature-controlled laboratory setting. Exposure to the UV radiation in sunlight also will hasten the dessication of the virus.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment in the United States has proven to be 100 per cent effective. Less than two people per year in the U.S. have died from rabies since the 1990s, and these were people who failed to seek medical care, probably because they were unaware that they had been exposed to the virus. Without PEP treatment, the final effect of rabies infection is always death.
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