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THE RABIES RISK 4 May 05
Although rabies infections in people are rare, they can cause serious health
problems. BT helps you identify the early symptoms of this silent killer
It's a good idea to know how to recognise the signs that your child has been
bitten by a rabid animal and what to do about it. Rabies is a virus that is
usually transmitted by a bite from a wild infected animal, such as a bat,
raccoon, or fox. If a rabid animal bite goes untreated, an infection can develop
and lead to brain damage or even death. But if you recognise the warning signs
of a rabies infection early, and get medical help, your child can make a full
recovery. After a bite by a rabid animal, a child may develop a fever, headache,
and general malaise. A twitching around the animal bite, a trademark symptom of
rabies, may appear, in addition to a fever above 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5
degrees Celsius), agitation, and hallucinations. If you suspect that your child
has been bitten by a rabid animal, even if there are no rabies symptoms, it is
important to take your child to the hospital immediately. Any animal bites —
even those that don’t involve rabies - can lead to infections and other
medical problems. As a precaution, you may want to call your child’s doctor
any time your child has been bitten.
How is rabies transmitted?
Dogs are the most common carrier of rabies in India, but bats are most likely to
infect people. Almost three quarters of rabies cases came from contact with bats
between 1990 and 2001. Small rodents, such as hamsters, squirrels, mice, and
rabbits, do not typically carry rabies. An infected animal carries the rabies
virus in the saliva and can transmit it to a person by biting him or her. In
rarer cases, an animal can spread the virus to a person when its saliva touches
a person’s mucous membranes (moist skin surfaces, like the mouth or inner
eyelids) or contacts broken skin such as a cut, scratch, bruise, or open wound.
Once the infected animal bites a person, the rabies virus can spread into the
surrounding muscle, then travel up a nearby nerve to the brain. Once the virus
infects the brain, it can cause severe, possibly permanent injury.
Signs and symptoms of rabies
The symptoms of rabies typically appear at least four days after the bite
occurs. But in rare cases, symptoms don’t show up for more than a year. One of
the most distinctive signs of a rabies infection is a tingling or twitching
sensation around the area of the animal bite. It is often accompanied by a
fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.
As the infection progresses, a child infected with rabies may develop any of the
Irritability Excessive movements or agitation Confusion Hallucinations
Aggressiveness Bizarre or abnormal thoughts Muscle spasms Abnormal postures
Seizures (convulsions) Weakness or paralysis (when a person cannot move some
part of the body) Extreme sensitivity to bright lights, sounds, or touch
Increased production of saliva or tears Difficulty in speaking
In the advanced stage of the infection, as it spreads to other parts of the
nervous system, other symptoms may develop: Double vision Problems moving facial
muscles Abnormal movements of the diaphragm and muscles that control breathing
Difficulty swallowing and increased production of saliva, causing the “foaming
at the mouth” usually associated with a rabies infection.
What to do if your child is bitten by a rabid animal
If your child has an animal bite and shows any symptoms of a rabies infection,
see a doctor immediately. If your child shows no symptoms, take the following
steps right away:
Wash the bite area with soap and water for 10 minutes and cover the bite with a
Immediately call your doctor and go to a nearby emergency department. Anyone
with a rabies infection must be treated in a hospital.
Call local animal-control authorities to help find the animal that caused the
bite. The animal may need to be detained and observed for signs of rabies.
If you know the owner of the rabid animal that has bitten your child, get all
the information about the animal, including vaccination status and the owner's
name and address.
If you suspect that your child has been bitten by an unknown dog, bat, rat, or
other animal, contact your child's doctor immediately, or take your child to the
Vaccinate your pets: Cats, dogs, and ferrets can be infected by rabies.