Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
Testing: No specific testing is needed because there is no way to detect if the rabies virus has been passed to you. It is not necessary to bring the animal itself to the emergency department because the doctors do not have the ability to test animals for rabies. The local health department will coordinate testing of the animal in question.
Examination: Your vital signs will be taken (temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure). You
will be asked a series of questions about the animal and the exposure. The
doctor will also ask questions about immunization you may have been given before against rabies and tetanus.
Certain medications used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and the prevention and treatment of malaria (for example, chloroquine and mefloquine) can interact with the rabies vaccine should it be given. Bring a medication list or the pill bottles of all current medications you are taking to the emergency department.
If there is a concern that you may actually have rabies, it is important to tell the doctor about any history of jobs, hobbies, recent international travel, and exposure to animals.
Other illnesses: The diagnosis of rabies is complex and cannot be determined in the emergency department. Rabies can look very much like other serious illnesses, such as meningitis (infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord). If the doctor is concerned about rabies or another form of central nervous system infection, you may be admitted to the hospital. You would be given a number of tests: blood and
X-ray tests and a spinal tap to examine spinal fluid for evidence of infection.