Rabies Overview: Dangers, Symptoms, Complications, And Prevention

Between January and June 2018, a total of 673 cases of Rabies have been diagnosed in Canada. This condition first became a concern in Canadian homes just before 19452, as cases of domestic animals being infected with Rabies were noted – this, in turn, caused the pet owners to become at risk of being infected as well.

Rabies is caused by a virus that is primarily associated with animals. The condition can also affect humans, as it is known to attack the central nervous system of a mammal (humans are classified as mammals). The disease is considered dangerous and can quickly become fatal. Optimal treatment following exposure is essential prior to the development of symptoms, but preventative measures are, in the end, the best option.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease. It is caused by a virus of the same name, the Rabies virus. The Rabies virus is part of the Rhabdoviridae family of viruses and also classified as a Lyssavirus genus. The virus is considered severe and often fatal, especially when it infects a human target. The majority of cases where a human is infected with the Rabies virus is linked to the presence of the virus in a domestic dog. Only 5% of human-related cases of Rabies are linked to wild animals. The Rabies virus primarily attacks the central nervous system and has a significant impact on the brain due to inflammation.

What Are The Different Types Of Rabies?

While a large number of Rabies virus strains have been identified to cause both animals and humans to become infected, it is important to understand that the infection in a human is generally classified within two primary categories. These two types of Rabies include Paralytic Rabies and Furious Rabies.

Furious Rabies has a more sudden impact as the symptoms tend to develop in a relatively short period of time, while a person who develops Paralytic Rabies tend to experience a slow onset of symptoms. Approximately 80% of cases where a human is infected with the virus will result in Furious Rabies.

Similar symptoms tend to develop in both types of Rabies, but some particular differences should be noted. In Furious rabies, sometimes also referred to as Encephalitic Rabies, the infected individual is prone to develop symptoms such as hydrophobia and hyperactivity. Paralytic Rabies tend to slowly cause paralysis in the infected patient, when is then usually followed by a coma and, ultimately, becomes fatal and causes death.

How Does Rabies Spread?

The transmission of the Rabies virus can only occur through physical contact with the saliva of an infected animal or person (any mammal can be infected with the virus). The virus is unable to transmit through the skin, except if the saliva reaches a location where the skin is broken, such as in the case of a cut or a burn wound.

In most cases where a human is infected with the Rabies virus, the transmission occurred after the individual was bitten by an animal that has been infected. In many cases, this happens with both domestic and stray dogs, but there have been cases of other animals as well.

The most common wild animals that are known to become infected and transmit rabies include coyotes, skunks, foxes, bats, and raccoons. Even though rats are often suggested to be particularly common carriers of the virus, they are not as likely to become infected with Rabies. Rabbits are also usually not of great concern.

Avoid any contact with wild animals.

Avoid any contact with wild animals.

Where Were The Most Recent Outbreaks Of Rabies?

Rabies outbreaks are not as common as one would think. Even though the prevalence of the virus is considerably higher in some areas of the world than others, hearing about outbreaks in low prevalence areas is usually not that common. Still, understanding where the most recent outbreak has been found is important for international travellers.

  • Thailand – 15 March 2018 – A report claimed that the government of Thailand has rushed to implement effective measures to fight back against a recent outbreak. By the publishing date of the report, the Rabies virus had already spread to 40 provinces within Thailand, and over 400 cases of the virus had been reported within just three months. Additionally, three people also died within the three-month period from Rabies.
  • South Africa – 15 March 2018 – At a similar time as the Thailand report, several reports were published explaining that South Africa is also facing an epidemic. While the number of Rabies cases in the country is still on the low side, it is currently higher than it has been in previous years.
  • Canada, Ontario – 21 January 2018 – While not as recent, a report was made that claimed almost 150 cases of Rabies was reported in Ontario alone within 20176 (total collective for the state). A year before, a total of 288 cases were reported. When compared to statistics from previous years, it becomes clear that there is a problem with Rabies that needs to be controlled to avoid further spreading of the disease.

What Signs Should You Look Out For?

The biggest concern about Rabies is that once symptoms develop, it is often considered too late for treatments to be effective. This makes it crucial for a person to recognize their risk – even when they only think that they have been exposed to the virus, they should obtain the appropriate testing to help detect the presence of the virus before it leads to fatal complications.

Rabies often tends to develop in different stages. During the initial stage, symptoms are not present. As the disease progresses, symptoms start to appear. Initial symptoms may include:

  • A headache
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Fever
  • Muscle Spams
  • Strange behavior

Once the acute neurologic period sets in, worse symptoms start to develop, which may include:

  • Hyperventilation
  • Partial paralysis
  • Confusion
  • Aggression
  • A fear of water
  • Hallucinations
  • Nightmares
  • Priapism
  • Convulsions
  • Rigid neck muscles
  • Insomnia

When Should Medical Attention Be Obtained?

It is vital for all individuals who are at risk of being infected with Rabies never to wait for symptoms to develop should they think that might have been infected. Even if they simply think that they might have been exposed, appropriate testing needs to be carried out, and treatment should be acquired on positive feedback. This is crucial in order to save the patient as most cases where symptoms develop are critical and fatal.

How Is Rabies Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Rabies before it causes death is a complicated process but needs to be carried out to increase the chances of the patient’s survival. A number of tests need to be executed for an accurate diagnosis. In most cases, specific tests will be performed on different samples from the suspected patient – samples collected will include saliva, skin biopsies and spinal fluid. These samples will be tested through different techniques, including reverse transcription, polymerase chain reaction, and virus isolation. The purpose of these tests is to identify the presence of antibodies that the body has created in response to the presence of the Rabies virus.

What Treatments Are Available For Rabies?

Post-exposure treatment for Rabies is usually only effective when administered shortly after a person has been exposed to the virus. In the majority of cases, when a physician suspects a patient has been exposed to the virus, they will not await laboratory results, but rather initiate the appropriate Rabies shots – as soon as the virus becomes active, these shots are usually considered useless, which is why early treatment is vital. A Rabies Immune Globulin shot will be used to help reduce the risk of the virus causes an infection. This shot becomes more useful when administered close to the region of the body where the person was bitten or where the transmission occurred.

How Can Rabies Be Prevented?

A highly effective Rabies vaccine exists that is recommended for any person who will be travelling to a destination where Rabies is known to be very common, such as African countries. The Government of Canada advises pre-exposure immunization for any person who is at risk or who will be put at risk during travels. Their current guidelines include an intramuscular or intradermal immunization vaccine on three occasions. After the first vaccine, a second one is administered at day seven and a third one at day 21.


The Rabies viral disease often produces fatal complications once the virus attacks the central nervous system and produces symptoms. We discussed the symptoms and methods of transmissions, as well as how prevention steps can be used to avoid the spread of the viral infection. Understanding the importance of these steps is vital due to the fact that this condition can cause death. Even though the prevalence of Rabies in women are on the low side, the general population are still advised to become acknowledged with the most vital data on this disease to help them identify their risk and take appropriate measures.