What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the brain and is spread by direct contact with an infected animal. It is a fatal disease found on all continents, except Antarctica.

Who’s at risk?

The rabies virus is spread by infected animals when their saliva comes in contact with you through biting or scratching, or licking a scratch or wound.

Rabies is one of the neglected tropical diseases (NTD) that predominantly affects already marginalized, poor and vulnerable populations. Although effective human vaccines and immunoglobulins exist for rabies, these are often not readily available or accessible to those in need.

Wild dog

What are the symptoms?

The typical incubation period for rabies is 2 to 3 months, but it can range from 1 week to 1 year, depending on the viral load and the location of virus entry. This means that symptoms may take several weeks to months to develop after the initial bite.

At the beginning stages of the disease, patients may experience general symptoms like fever, pain, and unusual tingling or burning sensations at the site of the bite.

As the virus spreads to the central nervous system, the patient will experience progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Clinical rabies in humans can be managed but not typically cured, and patients often experience severe neurological deficits.

Person with bandaid

How can rabies be prevented?

It is recommended to get immunized against rabies before travelling to areas where the disease is prevalent and not well controlled.

How is rabies treated?

In case of exposure to rabies, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is essential as it can prevent the virus from reaching the central nervous system, which otherwise may lead to death.

PEP involves cleaning the affected area with soap and water for at least 15 minutes as soon as possible after the exposure. It also includes a series of rabies vaccines that meet WHO standards and may include administration of rabies immunoglobulin or monoclonal antibodies into the wound if necessary.