Rabies is a viral infection caused the Rhabdovirus family. It is transmitted in the saliva after being bit or scratched by an infected domestic or wild animal. The most common sources of human rabies are bats, skunks, raccoons, dogs, cats, coyotes, and foxes.
The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system affecting the brain if not treated. Rabies is almost always fatal if untreated. What you need to know about rabies:
- incubation period is usually 3-12 weeks but the range can be as short as 4 days
- onset is subtle – burning or tingling wounds, headache, fever, and melancholy
- rabies infection results in encephalomyelitis
- rabies progression leads to hallucinations, hydrophobia, paralysis, and coma
- death from respiratory paralysis
The rabies vaccine is typically given to people who are at high risk of exposure to rabies. The vaccine is made from inactive rabies virus; it cannot cause rabies. People who should be vaccinated include:
- animal handlers
- laboratory works who handle the rabies virus
- people who spend a great deal of time in wild areas
- international travelers
Preventative dosage of the rabies vaccine is given in three doses. The initial dose, the second dose seven days after the first and the third dose 21 to 28 days after the first dose
People who have been exposed to rabies and have never received a rabies vaccination should get four doses of the rabies vaccine. One dose of the rabies vaccine should be administered immediately after exposure and the other three doses on the third, seventh and fourteenth day. At the same time as the first dose they should get a shot called Rabies Immune Globulin.
Talk to your doctor before getting the rabies vaccine if:
- you have ever had a serious reaction to the vaccine or if you have severe allergies
- you have a compromised immune system because of AIDS or HIV, treatment where steroids are used
- you have cancer or have been treated for cancer with radiation or cancer drugs
Wait to be vaccinated if you have a moderate or severe illness until you have recovered. It is safe to get the vaccine if you have a cold or other minor illness.
If you have been exposed to the rabies virus, get vaccinated immediately regardless of any illnesses you may have.