Symptoms and Signs of Rabies

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Rabies

Rabies is a disease seen in humans and other animals due to an animal bite from an animal infected with rabies virus. The most important sign and symptom of rabies is not seen in the person that gets bite, but in recognizing signs and symptoms of rabies in an animal that bites you. In addition, some animals that may bite you may not show any signs and symptoms other than aggression. Consequently, the most important signs and symptoms of rabies is knowing that you’ve received the bite from potentially or actually infected animal. The majority of human rabies cases involve bites from rabid dogs worldwide; in the US, wild animal bites (raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and coyotes) are the most common sources of rabid animal bites in the US. Signs and symptoms of rabies in animals include vicious, crazed and/or sick appearing animals (for example, muscle spasms, excessive spittle or foam at the mouth); however, some wild animals may appear overly friendly, docile or confused. If you are bitten by an animal, even a dog that has supposedly been vaccinated against rabies, it is important to quickly do two things – go to an emergency department for evaluation and call animal control to determine if the animal has rabies. It is important to do these things quickly because if you wait until you develop signs and symptoms of rabies instead of being treated, the disease is likely to cause your death. Signs and symptoms of rabies in humans include pain, tingling and/or itching at the bite site, then development of fevers, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and irritability develop. Gradually, the individual becomes extremely ill with high fevers, confusion, agitation, spasms of the respiratory musculature when exposed to water or puffs of air (termed hydrophobia or aerophobia), and eventually, seizures, coma and death.

Rabies is caused by infection of an animal or human bite the transfer of the virus and animal saliva or animal bites or even by an infected animal’s scratch. Rarely, rabies may be acquired by contamination of mucous membranes of the nose and mouth by bat secretions in the air of the cave or by virus laboratory workers studying rabies.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.