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Rabies - Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Author: Dr. Vishnu K R - First aid and Emergencies  


The incubation period of rabies is four days to four years. It is sad that our media, movies, and storybooks have depicted a fearsome image of this disease. Rabid animals are hydrophobic, and their brain cells are damaged by the virus. It loses its fear of humans. A rabid dog goes out in the open and behaves like a maniac. But, will a rabid dog's bite cause a human to bark like the dog and go mad? Actually, that is not the outcome. Humans with rabies will have hydrophobia. They will have muscle spasms because this virus attacks the brain cells. These spasms are interpreted as the person being crazy and mentally violent. The cases of rabies are becoming past stories, thanks to Louis Pasteur for his vaccine.

Do I Have Rabies?

It depends on what the animal did to you. The most important questions are:

Which Animal? Reptiles do not cause rabies. According to guidelines, rat, mouse, squirrel,etc., which are included in the category of small rodents are not listed under rabies causing animals. But a bandicoot (larger and bigger form of rat) comes on the list. All other mammal bites are classified as probable rabies causing factors, for example, dogs, cats, wild mammals, etc., are all suspicious. Till date, a bird to human rabies transmission has not been recorded.

What Did the Animal Do? It the animal scratched you, although it is not a big risk, it is better to get vaccinated. Rabies can be transmitted through the scratch wound. If the animal bit you, then you have to get vaccinated. A lick over your healthy skin is not problematic. But if the licking was done over a fresh wound, mouth, inner nose, eyes, anal opening, genitals, then go for the vaccine.

Where Is the Wound?The fact is simple, 'shorter distance to the brain means it is more dangerous.' Face, scalp, neck, shoulders, and arm are dangerous areas. Even a small scratch there should ideally require anti-rabies serum administration around the wound. The virus travels along the nerves to the brain with a speed of 1 to 2 millimeter per hour. That is why this disease has the widest incubation period range. A virus in the toe would take years to get to the brain. But, a wound in your eyes just requires days.

Why Did the Animal Bite You? Was there an abnormal behavior? Did the animal attack you without any provocation? Rabid dogs attack you with no provocation at all. A rabid dog bites multiple people in the same day.

Local Treatment of the Wound:

Whenever you get a scratch, bite or lick, wash it with soap and water immediately. As I said, it travels very slowly. The maximum concentration of the virus is at the wound itself. Whatever you forget from this article, do not forget about soap and water cleansing. The viruses are destroyed with immediate local treatment.


Rabies vaccine is the specific treatment, which is given as an intradermal or intramuscular injection over both shoulders. Combined with an antibiotic, the treatment is almost complete.

The anti-rabies serum is an injectable solution, which is given sometimes. It is a horse, or human derived anti-rabies serum, which is to be injected at the wound site as deep infiltration. Not all attacks require anti-rabies serum.

What Should I Do?

Locally treat the wound with soap and water. Do not tie the wound. Identify the animal if possible after the bite. Get treatment and observe the animal for 10 days. If the animal survives 10 days post-bite, it is good. And if you have a pet, vaccinate the animal and train it properly. It is good to have a pet that behaves well.

For more information consult a preventive medicine physician online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/preventive-medicine-physician

Image: Rabies - Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Last reviewed at: 07.Sep.2018



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