Understanding Rabies: Symptoms, Infection, and First Aid After a Dog Bite


Authored by Dr. Swati Rajagopal, Consultant – Infectious Disease & Travel Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore

Rabies is a fatal viral disease that can be passed on to people through the bite of an infected animal. With approximately 59,000 people dying from rabies each year, it is a serious public health issue. Each year on September 28th, World Rabies Day is observed to raise awareness of this preventable disease. “Rabies: Vaccinate, Save Lives” is the theme of 2023.

The Threat of Rabies

Rabies is a viral infection that mostly affects mammals, including humans. The rabies virus causes it by attacking the central nervous system, resulting in a near-100% fatality rate once symptoms appear. The seriousness of rabies cannot be overstated. When clinical symptoms appear, it is almost always fatal. The virus spreads from the infection site to the brain, causing severe neurological damage. Rabies not only endangers individuals, but it also imposes a significant socioeconomic burden due to the high cost of post-exposure prophylaxis. The key to combating rabies is education and prevention. We can protect ourselves and our communities by understanding its symptoms and transmission.

Rabies Symptoms

●       Early Symptoms: Rabies symptoms can be subtle at first and may mimic other illnesses. Fever, headache, pain or tingling at the bite site, weakness, fatigue, agitation, anxiety, confusion, and hallucinations are some of the symptoms.

●       Symptom Progression: As the virus spreads, symptoms become more pronounced and alarming. Patients may experience muscle spasms, swallowing difficulties, paralysis, hydrophobia (fear of water), and aerophobia (fear of wind). Death is unavoidable.

It is critical to recognise these symptoms. There is no cure once clinical signs appear. To avoid the onset of symptoms and save lives, seek immediate medical attention.

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How Rabies Spreads

Rabies is spread through infected animals’ saliva. Bite, scratch, or open wounds are common ways for this to happen. In rare cases, inhaling aerosolized virus in caves inhabited by infected bats can also result in virus transmission. Domestic dogs, bats, raccoons, and other animals are common carriers of the rabies virus. These animals can serve as reservoir hosts, perpetuating the infection cycle. Geographic location, contact with wildlife, and unvaccinated pets all increase the risk of contracting rabies. It is critical to be aware of these risk factors in order to take preventive measures.

First Aid After a Dog Bite

●       Immediate Action: If bitten by a dog, thoroughly clean the wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes. Use an antiseptic solution to minimise the possibility of infection.

●       Seeking Medical Attention: Seek medical attention as soon as possible, regardless of the dog’s vaccination status. Post-exposure prophylaxis is critical, including rabies vaccination and immunoglobulin administration. Wound care and tetanus vaccination may be required as well.

●       Observing the Dog: If possible, look for signs of rabies in the dog. Place the dog in quarantine under the supervision of local authorities to monitor its behaviour. It is critical to report the incident for responsible pet ownership and public safety.

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Rabies Prevention

Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent rabies. Rabies vaccination is required for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. It is also advised for people who are at high risk of rabies exposure, such as veterinarians, animal control workers, and wildlife biologists.

●       Avoiding contact with wild animals is another way to avoid rabies.

●       Maintain rabies vaccinations for your pets.

●       Handle stray animals with caution.

●       Any animal bites should be reported to your local health department.

World Rabies Day is critical in raising rabies awareness and promoting vaccination campaigns and education. It is a day for us to band together in our efforts to eradicate this deadly disease. Understanding rabies symptoms, infection, and the steps to take following a dog bite is critical to saving lives. Immediate action can make or break a situation. The fight against rabies begins with education and prevention. Be vigilant and proactive in protecting your health and the health of those around you.

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