Rabies: Preventable but Persistent

About 60,000 people die from contracting rabies from animals every year but only one in three die from rabies in the United States. One would think with the invention of rabies vaccines, it would be a lot harder to contract rabies. However, there are many communities that are not able to obtain these vaccines, especially in Asia and Africa. Most domesticated pets are required to receive rabies vaccines in developed countries but stray dogs continue to be a problem and a method for spreading the disease. The animals that usually have rabies are wild, and some examples include bats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, etc. 

Rabies is a disease that is caused by a virus that is primarily contracted by animals. It spreads to humans by the saliva or a bite of an infected animals. The virus is transmitted through the saliva of the animal into the nerve tissue to the brain and then back to the salivary glands. There are many symptoms of rabies that must be discussed such as having a fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, agitation, anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, hydrophobia (fear of water), hallucinations, insomnia, and partial paralysis. Once the virus travels to the brain, an infection can occur that can cause a coma and/or death. 

Rabies is preventable if the vaccine is administered right after a bite from an animal but before the symptoms mentioned above occur. The vaccine can also be administered before as a protective measure. In case one is bit by a rabies-infected animal, there are several steps to take. The first step is to wash the bite area (with soap and water preferably) and to cover the wound with a bandage. The next step is to call the doctor or emergency room to inform them of what happened, and to notify them whether or not you have been vaccinated to see what the next steps will be. The third step is to call animal control center to report the stray dog or obtain the contact information of the animal’s owners. There are several risk factors that increase one’s risk for contracting rabies such as traveling to or living in developing countries, risky activities like exploration of undeveloped areas/nature, working in labs with the virus, and/or wounds to the body. There are also many ways to prevent contracting rabies such as vaccinating domestic pets, keeping domesticated pets within supervision, protecting small pets from potential wild animals, reporting stray animals to animal control, not approaching wild animals, checking for bats in one’s home, and taking a rabies vaccine if one is to travel to a developing country. 

Because rabies as a public health problem has mostly been dealt with, it is not a priority for healthcare systems and the government. But rabies seems to be reappear as an epidemic once in a while due to the inattention it receives by developing countries and the lack of help these countries receive. The World Health Organization (WHO) have conducted many studies of rabies endemic countries. Some preliminary results from the studies conducted in the countries of Cambodia, Kenya, and Vietnam described that children under 15 have a higher risk of exposure to rabies from dog bites. This could be preventable if a system of rules concerning stray dogs and animal control could be put in place. 

Rabies could be eradicated if there were provisions implemented into society like having an adequate process for providing animal vaccinations, education for children about prevention of the disease as well as education for adults about responding to a rabies situation, and providing good health care to those who are inflicted. Deaths by rabies can be prevented very easily but the lack of support to eradicate rabies is what causes rabies to be a disease that will survive many more years. The best possible way to help the eradication of rabies is to donate to the World Rabies Day campaign so that more research can be conducted and more materials can be sent to developing countries. Rabies is a persistent disease but can be an extinct disease. 





Radhika-Alicia Patel