Health professionals take the rabies virus very seriously, as it results in a very high rate of mortality (deaths) for those who contract the disease. It is most often associated with a bite from a wild animal or an unvaccinated dog that has the disease.
How Rabies is transferred
The rabies virus is transferred from one mammal to another by saliva, which is why it is normally passed on by a bite from an infected animal. There are cases, however, of animals with rabies licking an open wound or transferring saliva without actually biting anyone or any other animal – by drooling on someone, for example. Rabies is so deadly that any time you suspect you have come in contact with an infected animal, you should seek medical treatment immediately.
Just for example, if you wake up and find that a bat has entered your home while you were asleep, you should carefully capture or kill the bat if possible and bring it – not touching the animal directly – to a laboratory. In the meantime, assume you have been infected even if you cannot find a bite wound.
Does the Animal Have Rabies?
There are two methods of finding out if an animal has rabies or not. The first involves keeping the animal in quarantine and observing its behavior for a period of 10 days. Doctors will know by then if the animal has rabies nor not.
The second technique involves examining tissues of the animal’s brain. As such, if you can capture the animal, that will work, but if you have to kill the animal to bring it in for testing, try to do so without bashing or shooting the animal in the head, as that could make it impossible to determine in a lab if the animal had rabies.
Any Mammal Can Have Rabies
Any mammal can carry the rabies virus. This means any animal that gives milk to its young can be infected. The list of mammals is, of course, long, but the most commonly cited carriers are those that come into close contact with people. Those include:
Anyone who handles animals routinely as part of their work is at higher risk of contracting rabies, as are travelers, especially if your travels take you through parts of Africa or Southeast Asia. Children are at higher risk, as they do not always act in their best interest around wild animals. People who work in testing laboratories are also at higher risk.
In addition, it should be noted that the time the virus can take hold is quicker if your wound or bite is on your neck or head, as it takes less time for the virus to reach your brain.
If you suspect you have come into contact with an animal with rabies, seek medical attention immediately. The symptoms of rabies are mostly flu-like symptoms that include running a fever, headaches, confusion, fatigue, anxiety, trouble swallowing, sweating, and nausea. Symptoms can also include hallucinations, partial paralysis, and hydrophobia (fear of water), which are triggered by the difficulty of swallowing fluids.
The immediate care for rabies includes washing the wound gently, which may remove some of the salivae that are infectious. After that, you should get a rabies vaccination shot as soon as possible.
The first shot, generally given in the arm, must be followed up by a series of additional vaccination shots. If they are not given on time, rabies is almost always fatal.
If you suspect you have had contact with a wild mammal or a domesticated animal that might be sick, you should rush to the nearest emergency room or to a clinic that can provide the rabies vaccination. In San Diego, call Pacific Medical Care at 619-333-8114 for assistance.