Carried only by mammals, this deadly disease is common in Africa, Central America and certain nearby Caribbean islands, South America, Asia, India, the Middle East and rural Northern Europe.
Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system (a type of encephalitis) transmitted via the infected saliva of a host animal (mammals only), through an open wound such as a bite or lick. This disease is almost universally fatal. Once signs and symptoms of rabies develop, there is no treatment to improve the outcome. The greatest care must be taken to avoid contact and prevent infection.
A common question is 'what are the symptoms of rabies?' In fact, this question is irrelevant as once you start showing symptoms you WILL die. The symptoms are as follows.
After an incubation period, anywhere between 5 days and up to 17 years, the virus travels through the nervous system to infect the brain, and from there migrates to the salivary glands. Initially, there is pain at the site of infection, usually an animal bite, which then develops into a tingling sensation. The skin becomes very sensitive to temperature changes and air currents. Anxiety, headache, fever, hallucinations, delirium, muscle spasm and convulsions develop, as may rigidity and paralysis. Painful spasm in the larynx leads to hydrophobia (water phobia, and thus refusal to drink). The sufferer may produce large amounts of thick saliva, which can be perceived as "foaming at the mouth". Coma and death result in every case.
Possible carrier animals are mammals, including domestic cats and dogs, bats, jackals, foxes, rats, skunks, raccoons, mongooses and monkeys. Rabid animals can behave unpredictably, alternating between passivity and aggressive rage without warning. But any mammal may carry the disease, so it is recommended not to approach any animal.
The risk of infection with rabies is higher for those who will have habitual contact with animals e.g. veterinarians. Those intending to work with animals or do a large amount of camping, as well as children and long term travellers, should actively consider rabies vaccination prior to travel.
Vaccination results in lifelong cover. Those who work with animals, eg. bat handlers in Australia, and animal workers overseas may require blood tests to ensure and prove immunity.