Rabies is a viral disease that may develop when a person is bitten by an animal carrying the rabies virus. The disease can spread directly from an animal to a human and also from one animal to another. The rabies virus can trigger severe inflammation in the brain. In the United States, the animals that are most likely to spread the rabies virus include foxes, bats, raccoons and coyotes. In developing countries, the virus is more likely to be transmitted by stray dogs. Once the signs and symptoms of rabies start to appear, the disease often proves to be fatal. Hence anyone who is at a risk of developing rabies must receive the rabies vaccine.

What is Rabies

The word ‘rabies’ is derived from Latin and it means ‘rage’. It is considered to be a deadly viral zoonotic disease that damages the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord of infected humans and animals. ‘Zoonotic’ means that it spreads between humans and animals. The rabies virus is classified into two forms - furious and dumb. Each form triggers different symptoms and behavior in infected animals. Animals that develop the furious form of rabies become aggressive and are easily provoked. Some animals may manifest behaviors that are uncharacteristic of their species. For instance, bats infected by the rabies virus may start venturing out during the day. The dumb form of rabies may lead to paralysis of a part or whole of the animal’s body.

Many different species of animals may become carriers of the rabies virus. Once the virus is transmitted, it moves along the nerves towards the central nervous system. This may take anywhere between 10 to 50 days. Very few people who develop rabies symptoms survive, in spite of receiving medical care. However, it is possible to fully prevent rabies through vaccination.
Here are some facts about rabies:

  • More than 55,000 individuals lose their lives due to rabies every year.
  • Rabies occurs in about 150 countries and territories.
  • About 40 percent of individuals who are bitten by infected animals are below the age of 15 years.
  • It is possible to prevent rabies and its complications by cleansing the bite area and immunizing the individuals in the first few hours after exposure to a rabid animal.

Frequently asked questions
  1. Wolfgang Haupt, Rabies – risk of exposure and current trends in prevention of human cases, Vaccine, Volume 17, Issues 13–14, January 1999, Pages 1742-1749, ISSN 0264-410X, 10.1016/S0264-410X(98)00447-2.
  2. George M. Baer, 1 - The History of Rabies, In: Alan C. Jackson and William H. Wunner, Editor(s), Rabies (Second Edition), Academic Press, Oxford, 2007, Pages 1-22,I, ISBN 9780123693662, 10.1016/B978-012369366-2/50003-8.