Your pets can kill you if you’re not careful. This happens when they have rabies.
The scourge of rabies has been around since 2000 BC. It is considered a neglected tropical disease that is present in 150 countries.
In 2015, this viral disease killed over 17,000 people worldwide. Majority of the victims came from Africa and Asia.
Here in the Philippines, rabies continues to be a public health problem, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization said that 200 to 300 Filipinos die each year because of the disease. A third of the victims are children below 15.
Since it’s Rabies Awareness Month, it’s time to clear up some myths and misconceptions about the disease. Here are some things you need to know about rabies:
Rabies infects only dogs. FALSE. While the virus that causes the disease is usually found in the saliva of infected stray dogs, any animal can transmit rabies. This includes cats, cows, goats, horses, bats, and monkeys.
The symptoms of rabies appear immediately. FALSE. Depending on where the person was bitten, it normally takes one to three months before symptoms appear. In some, this may be as short as four days or as long as six years.
You have to be bitten by an infected animal to get rabies. FALSE. Although being bitten by an infected animal is a sure way of contracting the disease, you can also get it through other means. Since the virus is present in the saliva of a rabid animal, it can transfer to another person via open wounds or the mucous membranes like the eyes, mouth or nose.
This means you may be infected if the sick animal licks an open cut on your skin. Additionally, someone with rabies may spread the infection via sex since the virus is present in sperm and vaginal secretions.
Rabies is easy to diagnose. FALSE. This may be difficult at first since the symptoms of the disease do not appear immediately. When they do, they are often mistaken for other ailments. If you were bitten by a wild or stray animal, don’t take chances. See a doctor immediately.
People with rabies develop hydrophobia quickly. FALSE. The early symptoms of rabies are similar to the flu. These are a headache, fever, and a burning or tingling sensation at the site of the bite.
As the disease progresses, the patient may experience nausea, vomiting, hyperactivity, anxiety, and confusion. Other symptoms include partial paralysis, insomnia, hallucinations, and excessive salivation.
Hydrophobia is the historic name of the disease and occurs in the late stages of infection. This occurs in 80% of patients because swallowing becomes difficult and painful.
Rabies is curable. FALSE. Unfortunately, once symptoms have appeared, the disease is always fatal in two weeks. To prevent this from happening, act promptly. If you have been bitten, wash the wound as soon as possible with soap and water for about five minutes to reduce the effects of the virus. You may apply povidone-iodine or alcohol afterward. See a doctor immediately.
Rabies can be prevented. TRUE. In the past, folk remedies were the skin of a hyena and a preparation made from the skull of a hanged man. Since there was no treatment, people with rabies would either commit suicide or be killed by others. Modern medicine has changed that.
To stop the virus from taking hold on the body and producing symptoms, the doctor may give you a shot of rabies immune globulin. This is usually administered near the area where the patient was bitten and should be done within six days of infection. It will prevent the virus from harming you. This is followed by four shots of the rabies vaccine in the arm given over a period of 14 days.
If you were bitten by a pet or farm animal, the latter should be observed for 10 days to see if it develops rabies. If not, you don’t need rabies shots. For peace of mind, get vaccinated and do the same for your pets.
National Press Club and Philippine Dental Association awardee George Nava True II is the author of three health books based on his popular medical column that has been running for over 30 years. For questions about health, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 09331366645.