Is rabies a real concern? Approximately 2 years ago, I had two individuals seek my opinion about possible rabies exposure. Although rare, the disease is still a cause for concern, especially when out of the United States. Why? It’s deadly-nearly always if possible exposure not reported and managed right away.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 3 human cases in the United States and Puerto Rico. This decline has occurred because vaccination programs have been put into place that have kept house pets, like dogs, from contracting the disease, along with an increase in availability of the rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin for humans. In the last decade, most cases reported in the United States have been from bat exposure. I would like to point out the effectiveness of vaccination for rabies to the growing number of naysayers regarding vaccine use. Rabies is virtually 100% fatal in humans.
Rabies is caused by a virus that is harbored in the saliva of infected animals, including dogs, raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. From the time of exposure to the development of disease (the incubation period) in people is 3 to 8 weeks, but can be as short as 10 days. The closer to the brain or central nervous system the bite or exposure is, the faster clinical illness can occur. It is 99 percent fatal in humans and mammals when symptoms begin. If you think you’ve been exposed, don’t take a chance that you weren’t exposed. Get checked out and get the proper treatment immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
After you have been exposed to rabies, you will be offered immune globulin and a vaccine. The rabies immune globulin is injected into the muscle and offers the patient immediate protection against the exposure; if the exposure is within 8 days of this injection with the rabies vaccine. The vaccine is given in the shoulder muscle on day 0, 3, 7, and 14 after exposure. The vaccine is highly effective. The immune globulin and vaccine can cause some symptoms such as pain, low grade fever, and flu-like symptoms; severe reactions to these treatments are rare.
In the United States, people have the highest chance of getting rabies from a bat bite. Often, these bites are painless and quick, and people don’t even realize they were bit. When it comes to other animals, they don’t have to “act” rabid to have rabies, as well. Symptoms don’t always include that iconic image of a wild animal foaming at the mouth. Rabies will often paralyze an animal, change its behavior, eating habits, ability to swallow and chew, heighten their senses, cause seizures, and more.
To avoid being exposed to rabies, don’t feed or approach strange or hurt animals or bats. Remember, report a bite immediately to the proper authorities and to your medical provider.
If you get bit or exposed, wash the bite/area immediately with soap and water. Then, go to the ER or urgent care immediately. The doctor will determine what to do based on what bit you and the severity of the bite. In Lee County, the Lee Memorial Hospital Downtown Campus keeps the vaccine on hand. You can get more information at this link.
Looking for a doctor in Lee County? Dr. Kordonowy of Internal Medicine, Lipid & Wellness of Fort Myers offers direct patient care membership and concierge services including the unique Inpatient Advocate Service™ . To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kordonowy, call 239-362-3005, ext. 200 or click here.