The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that 50,000 humans die annually from rabies. If you've been bitten by a wild animal or a domesticated animal that is not up to date on its rabies vaccinations (or if it’s unclear the animal has had a rabies shot), see a doctor immediately. You may have rabies.
What are rabies symptoms? Symptoms in humans of rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include fever, headache, general weakness or discomfort, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water).
What happens when symptoms appear? There is no effective treatment for rabies once the symptoms occur. At this stage of the infection, making the victim more comfortable while waiting for death is the only option. This is why it's so critical for someone who's been potentially exposed to rabies to get preventative treatment as soon as possible — before the virus can affect the brain.
What should you do if you're bit? Even if the animal that bit you does not have rabies, animal bites can cause skin, tendon and nerve laceration. If you are bit, immediately clean the wound with water or with a diluted iodine solution to lower the risk of bacterial infection. Your doctor will also clean the wound as part of rabies prevention. In addition, you will receive a tetanus shot if you have not gotten one within 10 years.
What does the rabies treatment consist of? According to the CDC, if you've been exposed to rabies, you will be given a shot on the day of the exposure and again on days 3, 7 and 14. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot, usually in a muscle of the upper arm. The vaccines given depend on whether you've received a rabies vaccination in the past. If you have, the number of doses is reduced from four to two.
How does the vaccine work? The post-exposure rabies vaccine includes antibodies that provide temporary protection until an exposed person's own antibodies develop.
What are the post-exposure rabies shots like? In the past, those exposed to rabies through an animal bite would have to undergo painful injections in the abdomen for up to three weeks. This is no longer the case. Current vaccines are relatively painless.