All you need to know about rabies

In as much as March is Rabies Awareness Month, may we request you to write a primer on rabies, especially on how to prevent it? —This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rabies is a highly fatal viral disease that primarily affects warm-blooded animals other than man, notably dogs, cats, rats, and bats, but which can be transmitted to humans by infected animals. The rabies virus, which is present in the saliva of an infected animal, is passed to a human through a bite, or rarely, when the animal’s saliva gets in contact with a scratch or fresh break in the skin. Incidentally, humans can’t get infected with the rabies virus by eating the meat of a rabid animal, provided it is cooked.

The rabies virus primarily affects the central nervous system. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other infection—fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, salivation, difficulty in swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water).

There is no cure for rabies. In humans, once the clinical signs and symptoms of the disease have appeared, which takes two to eight weeks—sometimes longer—from the time of the animal bite, death invariably occurs within seven to10 days.

  Rabies in the Philippines

Rabies is a serious public health problem in our country. The Philippines is among the top 10 countries with the highest incidence of rabies in the world. Department of Health (DOH) officials estimate that about 100,000 Filipinos are treated for dog bites and 200 to 300 die from rabies annually.

Among Filipinos, dogs account for 98 percent of rabies infection, cats account for the remaining two percent. An infected dog can transmit the rabies virus even before it becomes ill, but it will invariably manifest signs and symptoms of rabies including change in behavior such as unprovoked aggressiveness and excitability, paralysis, and hydrophobia within five days, and die within two weeks, after it gets infected.


Prevent rabies

Although there is no cure for rabies, it can be prevented. The key to rabies prevention is responsible pet ownership of dogs and cats. Responsible pet owners keep their pets’ vaccination for rabies up-to-date, restrict their pets within their homes or properties, and spay or neuter their pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly. Spaying is the surgical removal of the reproductive organs of female dogs and neutering is the surgical removal of a male dog’s testicles.

Another important measure to prevent rabies is reporting stray dogs to the proper authorities. Removing stray dogs is important because these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.

 In case of a dog or cat bite

Wash the wound immediately with soap and water then bring the victim to a doctor or to the nearest Animal Bite Treatment Center for post exposure prophylaxis treatment. This treatment consists of a single dose of human rabies immune globulin and several doses, some days apart, of rabies vaccine, all given in the form of injections. In addition, if the wounds are deep and the victim has no immunization against tetanus, tetanus serum, and toxoid injections have to be administered, too. Home medications consisting of a course of antibiotics may also be necessary for deep and/or dirty wounds.

  • If the biting dog or cat has been apprehended, do not kill it. Place it in a cage and observe it. Unusual behavior or death of the animal is presumptive evidence of rabies. Alternately, you can bring the animal to a properly equipped center where it can be “put to sleep” and its brain examined for rabies. One such center is the Regional Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa City. 

    source: Manila Bulletin