What Is Rabies?

Home & Family, Pets
on March 12, 2012

Rabies is a preventable viral disease with no cure. Your pets should all receive a rabies vaccination for their own protection and the protection of you and your loved ones. If you are exposed to rabies, post-exposure treatment can stop the virus before it becomes deadly.

What is rabies? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes rabies as a virus that "infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death." Because death usually occurs within days after the onset of rabies symptoms, you must seek professional treatment as soon as possible if you've been exposed.

How is rabies contracted? Rabies is primarily contracted when an infected animal bites another animal or human. Raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes are the most likely wild animals — but not the only ones — to spread the disease to humans. Rabies outbreaks among these animal breeds are not uncommon. You should never approach an animal in the wild, especially one that appears sick and unstable. Large, roaming populations of stray dogs and cats are also susceptible to rabies outbreaks. Never approach a stray, especially one that's acting strange.

What are rabies symptoms? Symptoms of rabies, according to the CDC, include fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort in the early stages. As rabies progresses, other symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water).

How is rabies diagnosed in animals? Rabies can be diagnosed in animals by conducting a DNA test in the brain of the animal. Because diagnosing rabies in humans is far more complicated than in animals, it's important to bring the offending animal, if possible, to be tested. A positive test in the biting animal indicates a likelihood that the human victim has been exposed and should undergo preventative treatment. If the animal cannot be tested, the victim of the animal bite must undergo rabies vaccinations as a precaution.

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