Rabies: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis

Rabies, also known as hydrophobia, is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of all mammals, including humans. It is caused by the rabies virus and is mainly transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Animals such as dogs, bats, raccoons, and foxes, most commonly give rise to rabies infection. The virus primarily affects the brain and spinal cord of the nervous system, causing severe inflammation and also death if left untreated.


Symptoms of rabies usually vary and mainly depend on the stage of infection. Initially, individuals experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and general weakness. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms become more evident. This includes anxiety, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, and difficulty swallowing. The term "hydrophobia," is often associated with rabies, and is referred to as the fear of water due to painful throat spasms that occur when attempting to drink. In later stages, paralysis, seizures, and coma can occur, leading to fatal outcomes.


Rabies is caused by the rabies virus, which belongs to the family Rhabdoviridae. The virus is typically transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal when it bites or scratches a person. As believed by many, rabies cannot be transmitted through simple contact with blood, urine, or feces of an infected animal. It is important to understand while dogs are the most common carriers of the virus in many parts of the world, bats are a significant source of transmission in certain regions, particularly in North America and Europe.


Diagnosing rabies is challenging, as early symptoms are similar to those of other viral infections. Additionally, the virus is not easily detectable in routine laboratory tests. Currently, the most important test to diagnose rabies is the examination of brain tissue after death. However, diagnosis through this test is limited and does not provide an option for timely intervention. Therefore, healthcare professionals rely on a combination of clinical evaluations like serum antibody tests, medical history, and possible exposure to determine a suspected case of rabies.


Once the symptoms of rabies appear, the disease is almost always fatal. Due to this, prevention of rabies is highly important. Immediate medical attention following an animal bite or scratch is crucial, as it allows for the administration of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent the infection from taking hold. PEP includes thorough wound cleaning with soap and water, vaccination against rabies, and the administration of immunoglobulins to provide immediate protection against the virus. It is vital to adhere strictly to the recommended treatment protocol to increase the chances of survival.

Rabies is a highly dangerous and often deadly viral disease that affects mammals, including humans. It is transmitted through the bite or scratch of infected animals, primarily dogs, bats, raccoons, and foxes. Recognizing the symptoms, understanding the causes, and seeking prompt medical attention are crucial steps to prevent and effectively manage this life-threatening illness. Remember, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to rabies. It is always important to consult a healthcare professional after a dog or any animal bite, and get the necessary tests done, to rule out any symptoms of rabies. AMPATH labs offers the Rabies Antibody Serum testing, click here for more details.