Rabies is a fatal, viral zoonosis that affects all warm-blooded mammals. The virus is found in the salivary glands, brain and spinal cord of affected mammals.
It is commonly seen in dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, bats and cows. Man gets infected through bites or exposure to saliva from infected animals.
Once symptoms appear after a bite/exposure, rabies is fatal. Rabies is found all around the world except in the Antarctica and Australia.
The disease is transmitted through a bite from a rabid animal (dogs get rabies when they are bitten by other rabid dogs or from rabid wild animals) or through contact with infected saliva to wound or cuts on the skin.
The virus has an incubation period of about 2-8 weeks before symptoms start to show. The virus is, however, shed through saliva as early as 10 days before symptoms appear.
The disease is a professional hazard to people handling animals, including veterinarians.
Clinical signs of rabies (in dogs)
• Initially there is change in behaviour. Friendly dogs may suddenly become irritable, while normally excitable animals may become more docile. A dog may bite or snap at any form of stimulus, attacking other animals, humans and even inanimate objects.
• They may constantly lick, bite and chew at the site where they were bitten.
• Red eyes
• Have fever
• Hypersensitivity to touch, light and sound.
• They may eat unusual things and hide in dark places.
• Drools copious saliva and cannot eat or drink.
• It chokes and the owners and the vets sometimes confuse this with a bone stuck in the throat and may try to remove it.
• Hoarse barking.
• Disorientation, in co-ordination and staggering may occur, caused by paralysis of the hind legs.
• Death usually within 14 days.
Clinical diagnosis of rabies is based on the signs and confirmed in the laboratories by examining brain tissue.
There is no treatment for rabies once infected and clinical signs manifest. Usually the animals will die within two weeks. It is important to report to vet authorities all cases of sudden change in animal behaviour.
If a dog gets bitten by a suspected rabid dog and your dog’s rabies vaccination is up-to-date, report to your vet immediately for assistance.
If any human is bitten by a suspected rabid dog, let him/her report to the nearest hospital for treatment and post exposure vaccinations. For First Aid, wash the wound with plenty of water with a disinfectant.
It is mandatory that all dogs be vaccinated annually against rabies as by law. By ensuring that your dog is vaccinated, you are not only protecting the dog but yourself, family and the society at large.
It is advisable that high risk groups like veterinarians and other animal handlers are vaccinated against rabies regularly.
Dr Muchibi is the animal health manager at Elgon Kenya Ltd