While rabies may seem like something that could never affect you, a surprising number of people (55,000 to be exact) die from it every single year. While the term rabies is widely used, many people don’t actually understand how they could contract it, what happens to you if you have it, and how to prevent themselves from having to deal with it.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a disease transmitted from animals to humans caused by a virus called, you guessed it, rabies. The disease is endemic across all continents but Antarctica and it is 100% preventable by vaccines. Even though it seems like the disease should be easy to prevent and control, it continues to affect tens of thousands of people every year who are bitten by rabid animals and infected.
What Happens to You if You Contract Rabies?
The first symptoms you’ll feel are similar to those you feel during the flu: fever, headache, and general discomfort. Around the site where you were bitten by an animal, you could feel itchy, sore, or a burning sensation. Here is where it gets tricky—rabies has a variable incubation period, so you could display symptoms within as little as a few days or as long as a year, after your bite has been healed for a long time. If you make it over a year with the virus incubating in your body, when it manifests you will undergo cerebral dysfunction that is displayed through anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, and very abnormal behavior.
There are two ways that rabies can manifest in you, furious rabies and paralytic rabies. Furious rabies (70% of human cases) causes a strong fear of water, a fear of flying, manic behavior, and hyper behavior. Cardio-respiratory arrest is the eventual cause of death for those suffering from furious rabies. Paralytic rabies (30%) will gradually paralyze the body’s muscles starting at the source of infection until death.
How Do You Contract Rabies?
An infected animal retains the virus in their salivary glands, so rabies can be transmitted by saliva transmission. That seems relatively easy to avoid by not kissing strange dogs, but it isn’t as simple as it seems. Rabid animals like dogs, raccoons, weasels, foxes, and skunks can all transmit the virus by biting you and consequently transmitting their saliva. If any wild animal allows you to approach it, especially if it is acting strangely or erratically, do not approach under any circumstances.
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