As of 2012, there had only been three cases of human rabies in Canada in the last 12 years, all of whom were bitten by infected bats. The most recent case was of a 41-year-old man who worked as a bartended in the Dominican Republic. He had been showing symptoms prior to going back to Toronto but disregarded it. His condition further worsened to the point that he had trouble swallowing and developed food, water and air phobia. Although this man was treated for the virus he acquired, most people who show symptoms of rabies do not live and those who do survive usually suffer from severe neurologic damage.
A zoonotic disease, rabies is a virus that infects both domestic and wild animals. These animals include dogs, raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. It is transmitted to people through bites with infected saliva or scratches. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system of humans leading to disease in humans and even death. It is said that the closer the bite is to the brain, the less likely a person will survive. This disease is vaccine-preventable, nevertheless, it still presents itself as a significant public health in many developing countries.
The incubation period of this virus is generally two to 12 weeks, however, it can be as short as four days. As previously mentioned, the closer the bite is to the brain, the less likely the victim can survive due to its shorter incubation period. The incubation period is critical because it is only during this window that treatment can be successful. Tests may be performed to confirm the presence of rabies virus in an animal.
The initial symptoms of rabies are often mild and vague, which can be easily mistaken for symptoms for other diseases. Nevertheless, they can quickly turn serious. Some of the initial symptoms include high fever, chills, fatigue, lack of appetite, problems sleeping, headache, irritability, anxiety, sore throat and vomiting. There may also be tingling and pain at the site of the infection. These symptoms generally last for two to 10 days.
After the initial symptoms, advanced symptoms begin to show. There are two types of advanced rabies furious rabies, which occurs in approximately 80% of the cases, and dumb or paralytic rabies. The former is characterized by aggressive behavior (biting or thrashing out), agitation, hallucinations, delusions, fever, and even continued erection in men. Moreover, there develops a fear of water, bright light and breezes. Difficulty in swallowing and pain in the throat also occurs. Upon attempting to swallow, a brief spasm occurs in the throat. Death usually occurs as a result of lung or heart failure.
Evidently, the second form of rabies is called so due to its symptoms which include paralysis, loss of sensation and muscle weakness, usually beginning in the hands and feet until it spreads to the body. Muscle spasm may also occur. Similar to furious rabies, those with paralytic rabies die from lung or heart failure.
If a person is suspected of suffering from rabies, medical treatment should be sought for immediately to prevent onset of symptoms and death. While waiting for emergency help, first aid may be initiated. By using the post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), rabies infection may be avoided.
PEP is comprised of three steps: cleaning the wound, administering rabies immunoglobulin and administering a course of the rabies vaccine. While the last two may be done in the hospital, the first step may be performed at home. Using clean water, wash the wound thoroughly. Use antiseptic or other substances that may kill the virus. If available, apply ethanol or aqueous solution of iodine. Leave the wound open only applying simple dressing. To administer rabies immunoglobulin, it must be injected to the body to prevent the virus from reaching the nervous system. Moreover, rabies vaccination should be given to any victim suspected of exposure to rabies.
Although it can be said that the first step of treating rabies virus can be read in numerous informative articles, there is no substitution for actual first aid training. If not treated properly, injuries may worsen and lead to an earlier demise of an individual.