Rabies

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One of the risks associated with being a veterinary technician is becoming the victim of an animal bite.

The worst case scenario for animal bites is becoming infected with rabies.

Fortunately, while serving as a veterinary technician, the Army vaccinated me and my peers with a series of rabies pre-exposure vaccines.

Because of the military’s due diligence, I am immune to rabies. But maybe, you are not as lucky.

Rabies is a virus that can cause infection in the central nervous system. The virus causes disease in the brain. Without treatment, it is always deadly.

Because of the strictly enforced vaccination requirements for companion animals in the United States, you are less likely to get rabies from a dog than if you live in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 95% of human deaths from rabies occur in Asia and Africa.

Rabies is transmitted from animals   to humans during an animal bite. Infected saliva passes through the bite wound causing infection.

Knowing whether an animal is infected is difficult to determine because they often do not appear to be sick. For now, the only way to diagnose rabies in an animal is by identifying the virus in brain tissue.

Animals most likely to spread rabies include bats, raccoons, skunks, and other wild mammals (in the U.S.) and dogs (in developing countries). Rabies is not found in Hawaii.

In humans, the virus has an incubation period from two to 12 weeks and in some rare cases more than a year.

The symptoms of rabies include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • convulsions or seizures
  • difficulty swallowing
  • discomfort
  • excitation
  • fever
  • general weakness
  • hallucinations
  • headache
  • hydrophobia
  • hypersalivation
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • itching
  • pain at exposure site
  • paralysis
  • slight/partial paralysis
  • throat spasms

As soon as symptoms begin to appear, death is usually imminent.

How to Prevent Infection

The good news is rabies is preventable. Several websites (U.S. Army Public Health Command, CDC, and WHO) recommend the following prevention methods:

  1. Avoid contact with stray or wild animals.
  2. Get the pre-exposure vaccine if you work in a high-risk environment such as laboratory worker, veterinary staff, zookeeper, military, archaeologists, and farmers. Although it is not required, I would also recommend getting the vaccine if you are traveling to countries where rabies is prevalent.
  3. Get post-exposure prophylaxis if a stray or wild animal bites you.

Children age 15 and younger are more likely to be the victim of an animal bite. The WHO estimates 40% of children are bite victims of suspected rabid animals. Teach children to stay away from animals they don’t know. Teach them bite prevention techniques.

What to do if an animal bites you

  1. Wash the wound with soap and water.
  2. Seek medical attention.
  3. Get the vaccine.

The resources below will provide you with more information about rabies.

U.S. Army Public Health Command Rabies FAQ

Center for Disease Control: Rabies

World Health Organization: Rabies

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