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What You Need to Know About Rabies


Table of Contents

Rabies is a preventable viral disease from a bite or scratch of a rabid animal that can cause brain inflammation in humans.

Without treatment, the disease can infect the central nervous system, which can be fatal. It is advisable for people who had rabies exposure to seek immediate medical attention.

What is Rabies

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that can result in fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

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 are not contagious. An infected animal usually carries the virus in its saliva or spit. The virus can spread through bites and scratches, while others do not need to have an actual bite to acquire an infection.

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 in the first few days to more than a year after exposure. 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 salivae (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 from a wild animal a risk until proven otherwise. Immediately call a health care provider or go to urgent care 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 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 first aid course to learn more about other health emergencies.

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