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Rabies
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Rabies

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INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Viral Illnesses

Rabies is a serious viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals. The disease typically spreads by way of the saliva of infected animals - often, but not always, through a bite.

Once you're infected, the virus spreads from peripheral nerves to your spinal cord and brain. From initial flu-like signs and symptoms, the illness can progress to convulsions, paralysis or breathing failure. Death can occur if you don't seek treatment immediately after exposure.

Prevention

The first thing to do if you've been bitten by an animal is thoroughly wash the wound or area of exposure with soap and water. This is one of the most effective methods to decrease the chance of infection.

If soap isn't available, you can use water. But be sure to wash with soap and water as soon as possible. Allowing the wound to bleed can also help clean it.

Ways to help prevent exposure to rabies include:

  • Keep your pets and other domesticated animals up-to-date with regular animal rabies shots.

  • Keep your dog on a leash when it's outside of your yard. Don't leave it chained up inside your yard.

  • Avoid contact with wild or unfamiliar animals, whether they're alive or dead.

  • Seal or close any openings where animals might find entry into your home.

  • Report stray animals or any that act strangely or sick to your local animal control authorities. Keep animal control's phone number near your phone.

  • Remind your children of this saying about handling animals: "Love your own, leave other animals alone."

  • If you're traveling, avoid direct contact with wild animals and be cautious around dogs in developing countries.

If your work or activities might bring you into contact with the rabies virus or a potentially rabid mammal, consider getting a preventive vaccination. This vaccination — called pre-exposure prophylaxis — involves three injections over 3 or 4 weeks. A booster shot every 2 years maintains the vaccination's effectiveness.

It's important that you talk to your doctor or a travel medicine specialist before visiting developing countries in Asia, Africa or Latin America. In many of these countries, dogs are the major carriers of rabies. Children are at particular risk since they are more likely than adults to be approached by stray or rabid animals. Your doctor can help you gauge your risk of exposure to rabies and whether to have pre-exposure prophylaxis. You can also discuss how you would handle an exposure. Some areas of the world don't have complete post-exposure treatment readily available.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:01 AM