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Rabies disease picture

Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.

A person bitten by an animal that might have rabies should be treated immediately with rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin (RIG). Once symptoms of rabies develop, treatment is effective only in extremely rare cases.  Preexposure vaccination is recommended for persons in high-risk groups, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, and certain laboratory workers.

For unvaccinated persons, the combination of RIG and vaccine is recommended for both bite and non-bite exposures, regardless of the time interval between exposure and initiation of post-exposure prophylaxis. The first dose of a four-dose vaccine regimen should be given as soon as possible after exposure, along with a single dose of RIG.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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