what is rabies

What Is Rabies – Understanding Facts And Prevention

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What is rabies? You have probably heard of this condition, right?

Rabies is often associated with street dogs. However, dogs are not the only animal that causes rabies.

The problem with rabies is that if it affects humans, it can potentially be lethal. Once it has taken complete effect, rabies causes death in all cases.

The good news is that it can be prevented easily.

I had the privilege of speaking to Dr Abdul Rahman, the former Dean of the Veterinary School in Bangalore, India and President of Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APCRI) and Founder Trustee of Rabies in Asia Foundation (RIA).

He was kind enough to write this article for HeartSense, and I am sharing that with you today. Over to you, Dr Rahman!

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a disease caused by rabies virus through bites by dogs and other animals.

Rabies viruses are very tiny germs and you can only see them with the help of a special (Electron) microscope.

Rabies is a deadly disease and almost all who get the disease die. There is no cure for this deadly disease even today.

How Do We Get Rabies?

We get rabies through bites / licks / scratch from dogs and animals that have rabies.

Animals affected by rabies spread the virus to other animals  and human beings through their saliva. Once inside the body, the rabies virus travels through the nerves to the spinal cord and brain.

The virus affects the brain, which results in death of the bitten person.

In India one can get rabies from these animals (mammals) – dogs, cats, sheep and goats, monkeys, wolves / jackals, foxes, bear, mongoose, pigs, horses, donkeys and camels.

97% of human rabies occurs through bites  from dogs, 2% from cats and 1% from wild animals. In India, rabies is not found in bats, birds and rats / rodents. In the United States, bats are the most common cause.

Facts On Rabies In India

In India, one person is bitten by animal every two seconds. Of the 55,000 deaths due to rabies that occur globally, 20,000 deaths occur in India alone.

Around 50% of the deaths due to rabies are among children (under 15 years age).

One person dies due to rabies every half an hour. All people who develop rabies die.

But rabies is a 100% PREVENTABLE Disease. Prevention is the only solution, because there is NO CURE.

Symptoms Of Rabies In Humans

The common symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat and feeling tired. Pain and tingling may occur at the site of bite.

Fear of water (called hydrophobia) develops because of sudden, strong tightening of the muscles in the throat. Fear of bright light (photphobia) and fear of air (aerophobia) is also seen.

These are unique to rabies.

Below is a video demonstrating these symptoms. Please be advised that these can be a little disturbing.

As time passes, patients may be paralyzed and unable to move parts of the body. Nervousness and anxiety sets in, ultimately culminating in coma and death due to cardio-respiratory failure.

Steps to Prevent Rabies

There are some simple ways you can prevent rabies. The table below lists how you can do so.


1. Avoid getting bitten – I have explained this below

2. If you do get bitten, when wash the bite  wounds with soap and water for 15 minutes.

3. Apply antiseptics like povidone iodine,or dettol or savlon.

4. Do not apply irritants  like chilli powder, coffee powder to the wound.

5. See your doctor at the earliest.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten

Do not stare at or provoke any animal.

Do not chase a dog or throw stones at them or pull their tail. Do not run if a dog chases you, instead stand still and call for help.

Do not tease a dog even if it is your pet. Do not hug or kiss the animal or dog.

Avoid stray dogs, cats and animals. Be careful of the pets that you don’t know. Keep the pet dog in its cell with its favorite toy to chew when there is gathering at home.

Make sure you avoid a dog or animal that exhibits any of the following – 

1. Change in behavior – undue aggression or depression.

2. Running aimlessly and attacking others without any provocation.

3. Becomes too drowsy and withdraws itself to a corner.

4. Excessive salivation

5. Change in voice (character of the bark changes).

6. Refusal to feed or eating unusual objects like stones, wood, metal, pieces etc.

7. Usually friendly animal becoming aggressive.

8. Wild animals losing fear of humans and entering into villages or human settlements.

What You Should Do If You Are Bitten By An Animal

Step #1

Wash all the wounds immediately with running tap water and soap for 15 minutes. Apply antiseptics like povidone iodine (betadine).

Step #2

Consult a doctor immediately and take full course of vaccination and immunoglobulins as per their advise .

What If Your Pet Bites Any Person

Wash  the bite wounds with soap and running tap water thoroughly for 15 minutes. Apply antiseptics.

Advise the bitten person to consult a doctor Immediately.

Confine your dog and observe for any change in behavior for 10 days. Check and confirm the vaccination status of your pet.

Have your pet checked by a veterinarian at the earliest (same day).

Responsibilities of a Pet Owner

If you wish to have a pet at home, there are certain responsibilities that you have.

Procure your pet with the advise of veterinary doctor.

Make sure that it gets familiarized with family members and frequent visitors.

Get it regularly examined and vaccinated by a veterinarian.

Allow children to play with your pet only when an adult of the family is physically present to supervise.Advice children not to put their hands in pets mouth. Advice children not to bring their face near the pet animals.

Get your pet neutered or spayed (sterilize them to prevent reproduction) by a veterinarian. This also reduces aggression.

Always take the dog for walk on a leash so that it cannot run loose. All the family members should take pre -exposure vaccination.

Your pet is your responsibility.  Consult your veterinary doctor  and vaccinate your pet as per their advise. Make sure you vaccinate your pet regularly (every year).

What if another animal bites my pet?

Handle your pet carefully so you don´t get bitten too!!!.

Take your pet  to your veterinarian for booster  vaccination (a booster helps to increase the immunity of the pet).

How Do You Tell If An Animal Or Your Pet Has Rabies?

There are some simple ways you can tell if your pet or an animal has rabies.

An animal with rabies tends to be sick all the time. They exhibit unusual behavior.

Sometimes, the animal appears to be tamed. On occasions, it may bite at everything.

Those of you who know your dogs will find it to have an unusual bark. Lots of drool or saliva can be seen all the time. This type is called furious rabies.

Your dog may demonstrate difficulty swallowing food. It may also have trouble moving,may just sit in a corner all the time or may even be paralyzed. This is called dumb rabies.

REMEMBER: You can’t  tell if an animal or your pet has rabies just by the way it is acting.

What Happens If One Gets Rabies?

If a person is bitten by a rabid animal and protracts rabies, then unfortunately there is nothing that can be done. There is no treatment and death is inevitable.

The time it takes to die depends on the type of rabies. Some patients die within a few days, while some may take up to a year.

The best way to treat this condition is to prevent it.


Rabies is a 100% vaccine preventable disease. Vaccinate your pets. Stay away from stray animals, other’s pets or wild animals.

Do not throw anything at the dog or tease the animal.

Never adopt wild animals or stray animals and bring them into your home without consulting a veterinarian. If your pet is bitten by another animal, call your veterinarian right away.

Prevent your pets from straying far away from your house.

Rabies Vaccination Schedule

Preventive Vaccination (No Exposure)

People at increased risk of exposure to rabies, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, rabies laboratory workers, should be offered the vaccine.

The vaccine should also be considered for people whose activities bring them into frequent contact with rabies virus or with possibly rabid animals. The pre-exposure schedule for rabies vaccination is three doses, given at the following times:

  • 1st dose: As appropriate
  • 2nd dose: 7 days after the first dose
  • 3rd dose: 21 days or 28 days after the first dose

For laboratory workers and others who may be repeatedly exposed to rabies virus, periodic testing for immunity is recommended, and booster doses should be given as needed. Ask your doctor for details.

Vaccination After A Bite

Anyone who has been bitten by an animal, or who otherwise may have been exposed to rabies, should clean the wound and see a doctor immediately. The doctor will determine if they need to be vaccinated.

A person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated should get four doses of rabies vaccine – one dose right away, and additional doses on the 3rd,7th and 14th day.

They should also get another shot called Rabies Immune Globulin at the same time as the first dose.

A person who has been previously vaccinated should get two doses of rabies vaccine – one right away and another on the 3rd day. Rabies Immune Globulin is not needed.

About The Author

Dr SIRA ABDUL RAHMAN B.V.Sc. M.V.Sc. Ph.D (Australia) FRVCS (Spain)

rabies dr rahmanDr. S. Abdul Rahman is a former Dean of the Veterinary School in Bangalore India and is the President of Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APCRI) and Founder Trustee of Rabies in Asia Foundation (RIA).

He is also the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Veterinary Association and Council Member of World Veterinary Association and member of WHO Expert Committee on Rabies.

I would like to thank Dr Rahman for this insightful article about rabies. If you have any questions, please do leave them in the comments and I will forward them to Dr Rahman.

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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