You wake up one morning with an enormous headache. You feel like you slept for maybe an hour all night. Or two, at the most. You’re that exhausted. You drag yourself out of bed, and run that scanner-thermometer thing across your forehead. It registers 100.3. Not earth-shattering, but still, it IS a fever.
Then you look down at your hand, at that almost-healed tiny wound. You didn’t think much of it when your son’s chameleon sunk his teeth into your flesh and wouldn’t let go. But now, for some reason, you panic.
Is the lizard rabid? Did it give me rabies?
Relax, you have nothing to fear. Reptiles don’t spread rabies. Reptiles don’t even get rabies. Neither do birds or fish. Rabies is strictly a disease of mammals. And while most mammals can contract rabies, not very many spread the disease.
If you’d been bitten by a raccoon, a skunk, a bat, or a coyote or fox, then your symptoms might be something to worry about. These animals do spread rabies. It is important to remember, though, that any infected animal can pass the virus on to a person or another animal by means of a bite. If a wild animal, or a pet or domestic animal has been exhibiting strange or unusual behavior, it would be wise to consider the possibility of rabies.
Rabies is a virus. It is usually contracted when bitten by an animal who is already infected with the disease. While it is possible to be exposed to the rabies virus without being bitten, it is very rare. Human-to-human transmission of the disease is also considered very rare.
Rabies attacks the brain of the infected person or animal, causing encephalitis (severe inflammation). Ultimately, the virus causes death. After the onset of rabies symptoms, there is no cure. There has been only one recorded case of a person surviving rabies after the onset of symptoms.
Fever, headache, a general feeling of tiredness, and numbness or discomfort at the site of a bite from a rabid animal can be early symptoms of rabies. The incubation period (the time between being infected and the onset of early symptoms) is typically thirty to ninety days. This period, however, can vary from anywhere between a few days and a few years.
As the virus progresses, it causes other, more severe symptoms. Neurological symptoms emerge. These can include partial or slight paralysis, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, insomnia, anxiety, excitation, and a fear of water (hydrophobia). A person at this stage may also develop difficulty swallowing, or excessive saliva.
Though rabies is a fatal disease, it is also a preventable one. If you believe you may have been exposed to rabies, it is important to consult a physician for evaluation. If it is determined that there is a risk, treatment will be started. The treatment consists of a dose of rabies immune globulin (which contains antibodies from donors who have previously received the rabies treatment) and five doses of the rabies vaccine. Thousands of people successfully receive this treatment each year. While there are a few deaths annually from rabies, these deaths are usually attributed to a lack of medical advice after exposure.