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Rabies: Symptoms, Causes, Vaccine, And Treatment


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What You Need to Know About Rabies: Rabies is a preventable viral disease contracted from the bite or scratch of a rabid animal, that can cause brain inflammation in humans.

Without treatment, the disease can infect the central nervous system and potentially be fatal. It is important for people who may have been attacked by a rabid animal to seek immediate medical attention.

What Is Rabies

Rabies is a deadly disease, resulting from a virus carried by certain common animals. It can cause fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord in humans.

In Australia, warm-blooded animals (mammals) are likely to carry rabies. These include bats, monkeys, foxes, skunks, jackals, and mongooses. Although rare, some pet dogs and cats who did not receive proper vaccination can get it.

Rabies infections cannot be transmitted through touch or airborne transmission. An infected animal usually carries the virus in its saliva or spit, meaning the virus normally only spreads through bites and scratches.

Like in cases of lyssavirus from Australian bats, exposure to the saliva is enough to get the disease. It can also spread if the spit gets directly into the eyes, nose, mouth, or even an open wound.

Signs And Symptoms

The initial symptoms of rabies can appear anywhere from the first few days after exposure to more than a year later. At first, the person may experience a tingling, prickling, or itching sensation around the bite area.

Over time, the person may develop more concerning symptoms such as headache, fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.

Other rabies symptoms may include:

  • irritability or aggressiveness
  • excessive movements or feeling of agitation
  • confusion, having bizarre thoughts, or hallucinations
  • muscle spasms and unusual postures
  • seizures (convulsions)
  • weakness or paralysis
  • extreme sensitivity to bright lights, sounds, or touch

In severe cases, the person can produce a lot of saliva (foaming of the mouth) and experience muscles spasms in the throat, making it hard to breathe.

These effects have long been associated with rabies infection.

Rabies Treatment

The golden rule in rabies treatment is to consider any bite or scratch from a wild animal (or even a stray domestic animal) a risk until proven otherwise. Call a health care provider or speak to a doctor as soon as possible following an animal bite.

Some treatments for rabies may include:

Wound Care

Early first aid is critical when it comes to rabies treatment. In addition to seeking medical attention, cleaning of wounds should be performed right after.

For post-bite first aid, clean the wound and place it under running water for at least 15 minutes. Use soap or a povidone-iodine solution (such as betadine) for cleaning.

According to research, thoroughly cleansing of wounds alone can significantly reduce the likelihood of rabies infection.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis

PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis is a treatment strategy given to the person after exposure to rabies.

The treatment includes cleaning the wound and administering immunisation to prevent the onset of disease. In addition to PEP, the healthcare provider may also prescribe antibiotic medications and tetanus shots (depending on the victim’s last shot).


Like all other immunisation, the rabies vaccine contained a weakened form of the virus that is incapable of reproducing diseases. It is an active immunising agent given to the victim following exposure.

In response to the vaccine, the body’s reaction is to produce antibodies that can target and kills the virus. The typical vaccination schedule is four doses over the course of 14 days from the day of exposure.

Many people also receive a further treatment called rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG), with the exception of those who already receive the vaccine.


Rabies is a dangerous virus from mammals that easily spreads through saliva.

The infected person may experience flu-like symptoms in the initial days and may develop fever, muscle spasms, coma, and worse, death.

Although there is no effective treatment for rabies symptoms, proper wound care and vaccination are usually successful in preventing infection. However, do not wait for symptoms to become worse before seeking treatment.

Knowledge is power. Stay updated on health and safety topics you care about most.

Enrol in a course with First Aid Courses Darwin to learn more about other health emergencies.

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