Causes of rabies
Rabies is a virus and, as mentioned, it is predominantly spread by a bite from aninfected animal.
However, it is also possible to become infected if saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or through a mucous membrane, such as the eyes or mouth.
Tests and diagnosis of rabies
At the time of a bite, there is no way to tell for sure whether an animal is rabid, or whether it has infected you.
The doctor will suggest moving straight to treatment; there is no benefit in waiting.
The rabies virus is an RNA virus in the rhabdovirus family. The virus has five distinct stages:
- Incubation period: this can vary in length exceptionally, from days to years
- Prodrome: early flu-like symptoms
- Acute neurologic period:neurological symptoms begin. These can include hyperactivity, or paralysis, as well as rigid neck muscles, involuntary muscle twitching, convulsions, hyperventilation and hypersalivation. Toward the end of this phase, breathing becomes rapid and inconsistent
- Coma: unless attached to a ventilator, death will come within a matter of hours
- Death: or, rarely, recovery.5
The rabies virus can enter the peripheral nervous system directly and migrate to the brain, or it can replicate within muscle tissue (safe from the host's immune system) and enter the nervous system through the neuromuscular junctions.
Once within the nervous system, the virus produces acute inflammation of the brain, swiftly causing coma followed by death.
Treatment for rabies
As the disease is generally fatal (although a small number of people have survived), there is no treatment for the illness per se. Once symptoms have arisen, there are no medications that can provide help.
As soon as a bite is received, a series of shots will be prescribed to prevent the virus from thriving. The shots include:
- A fast-acting shot consisting of rabies immune globulin; this will prevent the virus from infecting the individual and will be delivered as soon as possible, close to the bite wound.
- A series of rabies vaccines to train your body to fight the virus whenever it finds it. These will be given over the following 2 weeks and delivered into the arm.
Rabies used to be referred to as hydrophobia because of the fear of water produced in sufferers. Intense spasms in the throat are triggered when trying to swallow. In fact, the spasms can be triggered by the mere thought of swallowing water, hence the fear.
Excess saliva is produced, probably due to the rabies virus assimilating in the salivary glands. If the individual were able to swallow saliva easily, the virus' chance of moving to a new host would be minimized.