Rabies is a virus that can be spread to a human who has been bitten by an infected animal. Human rabies infection in the United States is relatively rare because treatment and vaccines are readily available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies is most likely to infect wild animals such as raccoons, coyotes, bats and skunks. If you are bitten by any wild animal, it is imperative that you are tested for rabies. Symptoms do not develop until the disease reaches its final and tragic end.
It is possible for the virus to remain asymptomatic for up to one year after infection. The earliest symptom of rabies is often a tingling sensation around the bite. You may develop a twitch in the area surrounding the bite as the infection spreads to your muscles. Development of these symptoms marks the end of the incubation period.
Once the incubation period ends, the rabies infection enters the prodromal phase. As the rabies virus spreads through your system, you will develop more overt symptoms, some of which--such as body aches, sore throat and fever--closely resemble the flu. During this stage, you may become extremely sensitive to sounds and light.
The final stage of rabies is called the acute neurological period. During this stage, the virus has infected the central nervous system. You may begin to feel anxious and even exhibit violent behavior. Other neurological symptoms include hallucination and depression. This is also when you will exhibit the symptom most commonly associated with rabies: hydrophobia, or fear of water. In the case of rabies, hydrophobia refers to foaming at the mouth. This is caused by the inability to swallow and jaw paralysis. The saliva builds up in the mouth and appears foamy. The prognosis at this point is very poor. Most patients die within a week after the acute neurological period begins, from cardiac arrest. Other patients become paralyzed, slip into a coma and die.
Rabies infection cannot be diagnosed until primary symptoms appear. If you have been bitten by a wild animal and are exhibiting symptoms, your body is producing rabies antibodies. The doctor will order a blood test to identify these antibodies to confirm the diagnosis.
Anyone bitten by a wild animal should receive a rabies vaccination. There is a small window of time between the bite and the infection onset when a rabies vaccination will prevent the disease from developing. Unfortunately, a person who is displaying symptoms and has a confirmed rabies diagnosis cannot be cured. The doctor will treat symptoms as they arise. Once symptoms of rabies are apparent, the disease is almost always fatal.
Never approach a wild animal no matter how small. Teach your children to keep a safe distance between themselves and any animal they may encounter. Protect your household pets from becoming infected by having them inoculated. House pets that do not receive a rabies vaccination can become infected if they are bitten by an infected animal. Once your pet is infected, he will develop the same symptoms of rage as a human would and may attack you. If you live in an area that has reported cases of human rabies, you should receive the rabies vaccination.