What is Rabies?
Rabies is a viral neuroinvasive disease that causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in warm-blooded animals. It is zoonotic (i.e., transmitted by animals), most commonly by a bite from an infected animal but occasionally by other forms of contact. Generally fatal if left untreated, it is a significant killer of livestock in some countries.
The rabies virus travels to the brain by following the peripheral nerves. The incubation period of the disease depends on how far the virus must travel to reach the central nervous system, usually taking a few months. Once the infection reaches the central nervous system and symptoms begin to show, the untreated infection is usually fatal within days.
Early-stage symptoms of rabies are malaise, headache and fever, later progressing to more serious ones, including acute pain, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, depression and inability to swallow water. Finally, the patient may experience periods of mania and lethargy, followed by coma. The primary cause of death is usually respiratory insufficiency.
General Distribution Map
The map below is from the World Health Organization and gives a general distribution of the problem. Do not make your own assessment from this map, but rather discuss the issue with your doctor prior to travel.
Written by Kim Romaine