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Understanding Rabies by Melody Bier

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Rabies is a unique medical condition in that it is zoonotic in nature, meaning that it is normally found in animals, but can also be transmitted to humans via infected saliva. Another aspect of its uniqueness is that it has one of the highest case to fatality rates as far as viruses are concerned. In the United States we take this horrifying disease for granite because of vaccinations and our advanced medical treatment has all but eradicated this disease from our human population. That is good news for us, but for developing countries like Africa and Asia, this nightmare of a disease is a harsh reality to them.

Rabies is caused by the rabies virus, one that is virtually invisible to the immune system. Once the virus has entered its human host, it multiplies at the site of entry for weeks. During this time the victim may only have generalized symptoms, ones that may be easily overlooked as something less sinister. These symptoms include fever, nausea, head and muscle aches, sore throat, and fatigue. A characteristic clue that a rabies infection is looming is that there will be tingling and twitching at the site of entry. The virus then enters a sensory neuron and from there travels up the axon to the spinal cord and ultimately to the brain. Here the virus multiplies rapidly causing more extreme and horrifying symptoms. Among these, encephalitis, confusion, seizures, agitation, increased sensitivity, hallucinations, and frothing at the mouth with trouble swallowing. When the patient begins displaying these, the only treatment is sedation and tying the victim to his bed to keep him from further harm, and left to die.

In contrast, the rabies virus can be effectively treated with immediate attention. Anti-rabies antibodies are injected at the wound site and followed by three more injections 3, 7 and 14 days after the initial injection. It is so important to seek medical attention after an animal bite, especially if there is any question about whether the animal is infected or not. To add to the seriousness of this virus, symptoms may take a month or two to present, there for, an animal may be carrying the virus without showing any outward evidence. The most common carriers of rabies in North America are wild animals such as bats, skunks, foxes, and at the top of the list, raccoons. Most human cases are due to contact with bats. Rabies is very rare in the U.S. with only about 1-3 cases per year. That is in striking contrast to the almost 70,000 deaths per year worldwide. This is mainly due to the lack of vaccination in stray and wild dogs in underdeveloped countries. For example, Manila in the Philippines, this is such an overwhelming problem that they have rabies clinics that see as many as 400 patients a day.

If we want to continue to avoid the serious problem of the rabies virus, we need to keep our pets updated on their rabies vaccines. If we or someone we know is bit by an animal we need to take the necessary steps in order to prevent this horrific virus from making us its victim.

YouTube “The Girl Who Survived Rabies- My shocking story” My shocking story
Microbiology by Nester, Anderson, and Roberts pgs. 658-657



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