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6 Things You May Not Know About Rabies


There’s a great deal of misinformation we come across on a daily basis about nature as well as transmission of rabies on mainstream media. We often see creatures being portrayed as monstrous and dangerous with bloodshot eyes and foam forming around the mouth. At the same time, their harmless and comical portrayal in cartoons isn’t very accurate either.

Hence, to help you learn all about the dangers as well as myths associated with the disease, here’s a list of the least known facts about rabies.

Foaming at the Mouth Portrayal Is Largely Inaccurate

Even though rabies isn’t the most pleasant thing to happen to an animal, it’s also not as terrible as the media portrays it to be. For one, animals with rabies are not always foaming at the mouth. In fact, this is one of the biggest misrepresented facts about paralytic rabies, which is a form of disease responsible for the loss of muscle control.

Contrary to what we know, this disease actually has the opposite effect. Animals infected by it are generally lazy and lethargic and also harmless. So the next time you feed your friendly neighborhood dog, you may want to be mindful of these factors.

It’s Not Only a Risk Dogs Are Exposed to

We often associate rabies with dogs but did you know that bats, skunks, opossums, foxes, and raccoons are also among the ones affected by it? It’s very much possible for any mammal to contract it, including human beings.

In fact, while it is rare among humans, it still remains a disease of public health significance, at least according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the agency, rabies exists in almost every continent except Antarctica.

It Is Possible to Protect Yourself from Rabies

One of the most common ways to contract rabies is by getting bitten by an animal that’s already infected. However, there are many simple tips you can follow to avoid being exposed to it. Some of them are:

  • Stay away from strange animals
  • Avoid feeding wildlife
  • Avoid handling injured, sick or dead animals
  • Avoid handling downed bats
  • If you have been bitten regardless, report it to the right authorities such as the animal control officer or the local rabies control authority, etc.
  • Educate your children on how to behave around an animal in order to avoid being bitten. Never allow them to handle animals by their tail or ears, or let alone tease them.

Getting Bitten Isn’t As Bad As It Used to Be

Thanks to the widespread availability of vaccines, post-exposure prophylaxis isn’t as bad as it used to be. Even if you have been bitten, make sure to wash the wound with soap, water, and iodine immediately.

However, the first aid box in your home is never enough for a rabies wound, and the next step you must take is seeking medical attention from a physician immediately. Depending on the nature of the bite, your physician may prescribe a tetanus vaccination or antibiotics.

You can also prevent exposure to rabies by getting pre-exposure vaccinations, especially if you work in a facility that may pose a risk to your health, such as a veterinarian’s office, for instance.

Some Animals Transmit It Faster Than the Others

While it’s a fact that all warm-blooded animals have the ability to acquire rabies, not all of them transmit it at the same speed. According to the CDC, rabid dogs are one of the major sources of exposure to rabies, and the exposure is responsible for almost 99% of human deaths.

However, in the US, rabid bats are considered the main source of exposure and consequent human deaths. This is mainly due to the fact that their bite wound is so tiny that, in many cases, it’s hard to determine where a person has been bitten.

Another rabid animal commonly reported is the raccoon. Again, the prevalent species responsible for the transmission of rabies can vary from country to country and even from state to state in the US. Surprisingly enough, there are also cases of “spillover.” This means that an animal not originally a carrier of the disease can be infected by rabies.

Some prominent examples are cats infected by the skunk variant of rabies or a skunk infected by a bat variant. Since we’re on the subject of high-risk animals, it’s also important to explore the low-risk ones such as squirrels, opossums, armadillos, rats, rabbits, and even prairie dogs.

Rabies Is Not Always Transmitted Through Animal Bites

While bites are considered the most common mode of this disease’s transmission, they’re not the only mode. Rabies can very well be transmitted through contact with saliva. Hence, scratches or licks from rabid animals can also be potential sources of transmission.

In fact, canine rabies (a type of rabies spread through dogs, coyotes, wolves, foxes, and other canines) is still endemic in many regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa, and even Central and South America.

One of the most prominent reasons behind the widespread risk in these regions is the collective lack of vaccination rates in dogs, along with lack of public awareness and required veterinary services.

The Bottom Line

So, here’s the million-dollar question: Is it necessary to get vaccinated against rabies?

Remember, while the risk of getting infected with rabies is quite rare among humans, it’s still present. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that vaccination will work after you have been bitten or scratched, or licked by a rabid animal. Hence, understanding the risks associated with the disease as well as other intricacies will help you determine whether vaccination against it is necessary.

Finally, if you are planning to travel to high-risk regions, it’s only reasonable to get pre-exposure vaccination before departure or consult a health care professional for advice. Only by wrapping your head around the facts and distinguishing them from myths will you be able to steer clear of the path that may possibly expose you to rabies.