Of ‘mad’ dogs and ra­bies

Ra­bies is a pre­ventable vi­ral dis­ease most of­ten trans­mit­ted through the bite of a ra­bid an­i­mal.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Health -

RE­CENTLY, I read that there were cases of an­i­mals hav­ing ra­bies in our own coun­try. There were even two chil­dren who suc­cumbed to it. When I was grow­ing up as a child, my mother used to tell me that if a dog bites me, there is a pos­si­bil­ity of me get­ting ra­bies. But I rarely hear about ra­bies to­day, un­til this re­cent in­ci­dent. Is ra­bies rare?

Ra­bies is fairly rare to­day in ad­vanced coun­tries, but you still hear about a lot of cases in ru­ral pop­u­la­tions.

Ra­bies is present in all con­ti­nents ex­cept Antarc­tica. Most humans in­fected by it are in Africa and Asia.

Ra­bies is not that rare as the virus is preva­lent in an­i­mals. How­ever, the ra­bies vac­cine has pre­vented deaths from oc­cur­ring to those in­fected by it. Hence, you don’t hear that much about peo­ple ac­tu­ally con­tract­ing it.

Every year, more than 15 mil­lion peo­ple re­ceive a ra­bies vac­ci­na­tion af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a dog or wild an­i­mal.

This vac­ci­na­tion has saved mil­lions and mil­lions of lives.

Of course, there are many peo­ple liv­ing in ru­ral or re­mote ar­eas who have no ac­cess to this vac­cine. If these peo­ple are bit­ten, they may con­tract ra­bies and die.

Ra­bies usu­ally af­fects chil­dren be­tween the ages of five and 14. With­out the vac­cine, it is al­most al­ways fa­tal.

Wait. So ra­bies is an in­fec­tious dis­ease?

Yes. It is an RNA type virus.

It is trans­mit­ted to humans through the saliva of an­i­mals.

Most of the time, humans con­tract the virus af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a do­mes­tic pet, usu­ally a dog. Be­ware of con­tract­ing it from wild dogs.

It can also spread to humans through scratches.

It can also be spread from other fa­mil­iar pets, such as cats, fer­rets, or even farm an­i­mals like goats, horses, cows and sheep.

In some cases, humans get it from be­ing bit­ten by other wild an­i­mals, like mon­keys, bats, coy­otes, skunks, rac­coons, foxes, etc.

There is also an­other way of con­tract­ing ra­bies. If an in­fected do­mes­tic or wild an­i­mal were to lick an open wound that you might pos­si­bly have, or a mu­cus mem­brane such as your eye or mouth, the virus can also be trans­mit­ted.

So be care­ful of hav­ing an­i­mals that you don’t know lick you.

How will I know if I have ra­bies?

If you have been bit­ten by any an­i­mal, in­clud­ing your own dog, or ex­posed to any an­i­mal sus­pected of hav­ing ra­bies (like a ra­bid wild dog), it is bet­ter to err on the safe side and seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion im­me­di­ately.

If you have a small child and you are not sure if he or she has been bit­ten, just go to a doc­tor to be on the safe side.

Even if you are not sure if you are bit­ten, es­pe­cially when you are asleep dur­ing camp­ing or such, and you find teeth marks the next morn­ing – also seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

In ra­bies, it is bet­ter to be safe than sorry be­cause it is a fa­tal dis­ease.

The first symp­toms and signs of ra­bies are very sim­i­lar to hav­ing the flu, and may last for days. They in­clude:

● Fever

● Headache

● Nau­sea

● Vom­it­ing

Later on, you may suf­fer anx­i­ety, con­fu­sion, hy­per­ac­tiv­ity and dif­fi­culty swal­low­ing. A lot of peo­ple as­so­ciate foam­ing at the mouth with ra­bies, and they are right. This is be­cause of ex­ces­sive saliva be­ing pro­duced.

You may also have a fear of wa­ter, be­cause of the ex­ces­sive sali­va­tion. This is called hy­dropho­bia.

At even later stages, there can be hal­lu­ci­na­tions, in­som­nia, and even par­tial paral­y­sis as more and more of your brain is in­fected by the virus.

Why is ra­bies fa­tal?

Once you are in­fected, there is no ef­fec­tive treat­ment. Ra­bies is caused by a virus, and viruses are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to treat. Very, very few peo­ple can sur­vive ra­bies.

It is far bet­ter to pre­vent it.

You men­tioned a vac­cine?

Yes. It is a ra­bies shot.

If the doc­tor de­cides that you have in­deed been bit­ten by an an­i­mal and you need ra­bies preven­tion, he or she will give you a se­ries of shots to pre­vent the virus from mul­ti­ply­ing and ac­tu­ally in­fect­ing you.

You will re­ceive four in­jec­tions over a pe­riod of 14 days.

If you can find the an­i­mal that bit you, that an­i­mal can also be ob­served for ra­bies. If the an­i­mal shows no signs of ra­bies af­ter 10 days, then it is safe to say that it doesn’t carry the ra­bies virus.

Un­for­tu­nately, to test an an­i­mal for the ra­bies virus, you will have to kill it and test its brain. So it’s not wise to do that for pets.

Dr YLM grad­u­ated as a med­i­cal doc­tor, and has been writ­ing for many years on var­i­ous sub­jects such as medicine, health, com­put­ers and en­ter­tain­ment. For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, e-mail starhealth@thes­tar.com. my. The in­for­ma­tion con­tained in this col­umn is for gen­eral ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses only. Nei­ther The Star nor the author gives any war­ranty on ac­cu­racy, com­plete­ness, func­tion­al­ity, use­ful­ness or other as­sur­ances as to such in­for­ma­tion. The Star and the author dis­claim all re­spon­si­bil­ity for any losses, dam­age to prop­erty or per­sonal in­jury suf­fered di­rectly or in­di­rectly from re­liance on such in­for­ma­tion.

Your pets can also be vac­ci­nated against ra­bies. — AFP

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