Rabies is a zoonotic viral disease (i.e. it can be transmitted from animals to humans) which affects domestic and wild animals.
Each year, rabies kills more than 50,000 people and millions of animals around the world. It is a viral disease transmitted to animals and humans through close contact with the saliva from infected animals through bites, scratches, or licks on broken skin and mucous membranes.
Rabies is usually spread to humans from infected stray dogs. In addition, some other animals can also spread rabies. These include cats, foxes, bats, raccoons and skunks.
The symptoms of rabies are initially non-specific but progress to mild fever, pain at the site of bite, anxiety, agitation, increased excitability, hydrophobia (fear of water), aerophobia (fear of fresh air), etc. Once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans.
Following a bite from a suspected rabid animal, it is essential to clean the wound properly. In addition, immunization should start immediately along with the administration of human rabies immunoglobulin. The newer vaccines have a shorter schedule and are less commonly associated with side effects, as compared to the older vaccines.
The above measures if started immediately can prevent the onset of rabies and death. Once the infection is established, death is inevitable. In such circumstances, the person should be isolated and provided nursing care in the last days.
The animal should be observed for a period of at least 10 days following a bite. If the animal is alive and well till this time, it is unlikely that it suffers from rabies. If the animal dies, examination on a sample of the brain helps in the diagnosis.