Diseases & Conditions


RabiesCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a traumatic disease of the nervous system. It is considered zoonotic in that it is transferred from animals to humans usually via some type of bite. Rabies is fatal if treatment is not administered immediately after the bite and prior to symptoms.

Causes of Rabies

Rabies is the result of a virus affecting the nervous system. It can be spread from the bite of an infected mammal, through kissing or sexual relations, infection through the mucous membranes and as a result of transplant surgery.

Medications for Rabies

A benzalkonium chloride or virucidal medium such as a povidon-iodine solution are used to wash out the bite. A tetanus shot is recommended to prevent bacteria from infecting the body. There are 2 different types of rabies vaccinations. The first is HDCV or Imovac and is a human diploid cell shot. The second is PCECV or Rabavert and is a chick embryo vaccine. A human rabies immunoglobulin is also administered for immediate prevention. This is called either Hyperab or Imogam.

Prevention of Rabies

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent rabies:

  • Get all pets vaccinated including dogs, cats and ferrets.
  • Keep all pets in a contained area where they will not come in contact with wild animals that could be infected.
  • Keep smaller pets safe and well protected from wild animals that may prey on them.
  • Avoid coming in contact with animals while out in the wild.
  • Cover crack or gaps in the home so bats cannot enter.
  • For those who work with animals or who will be traveling to a high risk country it is advisable to get vaccinated for rabies.

Risk Factors for Rabies

Individuals who work with animals in the wild are at risk for rabies. Veterinarians and other animal health care workers are also at risk. People who spend a lot of time out of doors increase their risk of being exposed to a rabid animal. Individuals who travel to countries that have a high incidence of rabies are also at risk.

Symptoms of Rabies

In the early stages symptoms of rabies include fever and headache, severe pain, erratic and often violent behaviors, hydrophobia and depression. Other symptoms include insomnia, confusion and anxiety, paralysis, hallucinations, extreme salivation and trouble swallowing. In later stages the patient experiences lethargy and mania and eventually coma. Death is usually due to respiratory failure.

Treatment for Rabies

Treatment is effective if administered within 10 days of contracting the disease. Washing the wound for 5 minutes immediately after it is received and using some type of iodine or alcohol solution while washing will get rid of the much of the virus. In the United States it is recommended someone exposed to rabies should get a dose of HRIG (human rabies immunoglobulin) and then four doses of rabies vaccine over the following two weeks. The HRIG should be administered around the bite mark and any remainder should be injected deep into the muscle away from the bite site. The first vaccine should be given as quickly as possible with the remainder on the third, seventh and fourteenth day after exposure. Survival of a rabies infection without vaccination has occurred. The individual was placed into a coma and given several different drugs to halt brain function where rabies is known to attack.

Types of Rabies

There are two different types of rabies related to the stages of the disease.

  • Furious rabies occurs early on with erratic behavior including biting.
  • Dumb rabies occurs later on in the disease when the afflicted individual appears quite calm. However this can be misleading as paralysis has set in by this time.