Rabies is a deadly disease that affects the brain and nerves of humans and animals. It is caused by a virus that is usually spread by the bite or scratch of an infected animal, such as a dog, cat, bat, or monkey. Rabies can also be transmitted by contact with the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal. Rabies is preventable by vaccination, but once symptoms appear, it is almost always fatal.
Mode of spread:
The rabies virus enters the body through a wound or mucous membrane (such as the mouth or eyes) and travels along the nerves to the brain. This may take several weeks or months, depending on the location and severity of the wound. During this time, there are no symptoms and the person may not know they are infected. This is called the incubation period.
Once the virus reaches the brain, it causes inflammation and damage to the nerve cells. This leads to various symptoms, depending on which part of the brain is affected.
Types of Rabies:
There are two main types of rabies: furious and paralytic.
Furious rabies is more common and causes symptoms such as fever, headache, anxiety, confusion, agitation, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, fear of water (hydrophobia), hallucinations, and seizures. The person may have periods of calmness followed by episodes of rage and aggression. This type of rabies usually lasts for a few days to a week before death.
Paralytic rabies is less common and causes symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling, and paralysis that start from the wound site and spread to the rest of the body. The person may also have difficulty breathing and swallowing. This type of rabies may last for up to a month before death.
The diagnosis of rabies is based on the history of exposure to a potentially rabid animal, the clinical signs and symptoms, and laboratory tests on blood, saliva, or brain tissue samples. However, diagnosis is often difficult before symptoms appear or after death.
The treatment of rabies consists of immediate and thorough washing of the wound with soap and water for 15 minutes, followed by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin (or monoclonal antibodies) as soon as possible after exposure. The vaccine helps the body to produce antibodies that fight the virus, while the immune globulin (or monoclonal antibodies) provides ready-made antibodies that neutralize the virus. The vaccine is given in four or five doses over 14 days, while the immune globulin (or monoclonal antibodies) is given in one dose at the same time as the first dose of vaccine.
The treatment of rabies is effective if given before symptoms appear. However, once symptoms start, there is no specific treatment or cure for rabies. The person may receive supportive care to relieve pain and discomfort, but death is inevitable.
The prevention of rabies involves vaccinating dogs and other domestic animals against rabies, avoiding contact with wild animals or stray dogs that may be infected with rabies, educating people about the risk and prevention of rabies, and providing prompt and adequate treatment for people who are exposed to rabies.
Rabies is a serious public health problem in India, where it causes about 18 000 to 20 000 deaths every year. Most of these deaths are due to dog bites, especially among children under 15 years of age. Many people in India are unaware of the danger of rabies or do not have access to proper treatment after exposure. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness and improve access to rabies prevention and control measures in India.
Rabies is a preventable but fatal disease that affects both humans and animals. By vaccinating dogs and other pets against rabies, avoiding contact with potentially rabid animals, seeking medical attention after exposure to a suspected rabid animal, and following the recommended treatment regimen, we can save lives and eliminate rabies from India by 2030.