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Rabies Symptoms

Rabies Symptoms and Treatment in Humans

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Updated January 23, 2014

Rabies in humans is extremely rare in developed countries. There was only one documented case in the United States in 2007. Rabies from domestic dog bites hasn't been reported in more than a decade (there were a couple of cases involving foreign dogs). Usually, rabies comes from bites or scratches by wild animals.

Most of the rabies infections come from bats. From 2000 to 2007 there were only 25 cases of human rabies reported in the United States, and 18 came from contact with bats. Don't take that to mean that all bats have rabies or that other animals are safe, however. The species known to have rabies most often is the racoon, followed by bats, skunks and foxes.

Rabies Symptoms

Once rabies symptoms begin to appear, the infection is almost always fatal, which means it's critical to determine if a rabies exposure happened as quickly as possible. The best way to check for rabies is to catch the animal and have it tested. Any contact with a wild animal that includes a bite, scratch or transfer of saliva or blood into an open wound should be evaluated by a doctor.

The symptoms of rabies start out like many other infections, and victims may feel like they have the flu:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • General ill feeling (malaise) that lasts for days after the bite
If treatment wasn't sought after a bite -- or if you had physical contact with a wild animal but didn't think you were bitten -- and you begin to feel flu-like symptoms, go to the doctor as soon as possible and explain your concerns. This isn't an emergency that needs a 911 call, but it is important to go to the emergency department if your doctor isn't immediately available. As rabies progresses, the symptoms begin to affect the nerves and brain:
  • Tingling or numbness at the bite
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Neurological deficits

Rabies Treatment

The only first aid for rabies is the same for all animal bites: clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Cleaning the wound is an important first step. Povidone iodine is also recommended, if it is available.

Treatment for rabies after wound cleaning will be through vaccinations given by injection. Your doctor will explain the schedule of injections necessary.

Sources:

"Rabies Post-Exposure." 03 Sep 2007. Rabies. CDC. 04 Apr 2009

"Natural History of Rabies." 05 Jul 2007. Rabies. CDC. 04 Apr 2009

Yee, A.H., et al."Human Rabies --- Minnesota, 2007." 01 May 2008. MMWR Weekly. CDC. 04 Apr 2009

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