World Rabies Day has come and gone in September, but every month is a good one to talk about rabies. Here are some anecdotes and trivia about rabies – who knows? One of these facts can save your life.

One would think that after growing up around many canine family members, I would know how to avoid being bitten by dogs. As it turns out, while I know how to read the moods of my furry family members, that doesn’t necessarily mean I would know the moods of dogs from other families.

The first time I was “tagged” by a dog was when my boss’s canine companion back in the day tried to bite me through my denim jeans. The sharp pain immediately told me that my skin had been broken, but there was no bleeding. That was the first time I received a seires of vaccine shots against rabies.

A few years later, when I was staying in a small apartment I apparently became the pincushion for two ownerless cats. I ended up needing vaccine shots two times over the course of three years.

Because of my experiences, I decided to learn as much as possible about rabies, and why it is really, really important that you get vaccinated whenever you get bitten by a dog or cat – or bat! – even if they are members of your family.

Symptoms of the big “R”

Rabies is a virus that usually spreads through the saliva of infected animals – and because of that, it means that a bite is the usual mode of transmission. Rabies is so deadly that once the symptoms appear, it usually means that it’s too late; all that’s left is to prepare for the inevitable end.

The initial symptoms as listed by Mayo Clinic are similar to flu symptoms: fever, headache, and nausea. Vomiting, anxiety, and confusion can follow, as well as hyperactivity. But the most-feared symptoms of rabies are the following: difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, and hallucinations. The potential for violent behavior when these symptoms come out makes it possible for rabies victims to hurt – or even bite – other people, which can potentially spread the virus.

In our canine companions, the symptoms may be different: restlessness and aggression are initial symptoms, and later on a fever can manifest. They may also constantly lick the wound where they were infected with rabies. As the virus infection gets worse, hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch might happen, or they may eat weird things, or hide in dark places. Finally, foaming at the mouth, paralysis, and confusion will happen before the canine companion passes on. According to WebMD, cats have similar symptoms, with increased vocalization and seizures added to the list of symptoms.

Treatment

The only real treatment for rabies is vaccination. But here’s the catch: Human vaccinations have limited effectivity. Depending on the analysis of a doctor experienced in using rabies vaccines, booster doses should be given anywhere from every six months to two years after the primary vaccination set. And even then, a pre-exposure set of rabies vaccination shots will only lessen the number of shots.

Our furry family members also need regular vaccine injections, if they are to stay rabies-free. They can be administered as early as three months of age, and then booster shots should be administered from every year after, or up to three years after, depending on the type of vaccine.

If I’m bitten, are vaccine shots necessary?

Let’s face it: The strict vaccination schedule for multiple shots, not to mention the relatively high expense of the whole treatment, can be annoying. But it’s always best to consult with a trusted doctor even if it’s companion animals who are involved. And when it comes to strange animals, especially those you can’t observe for ten days, having the vaccination shots is the safest bet.

If your animal companion has tangled with an animal who’s either wild or probably hasn’t had vaccination shots, call your veterinarian immediately. And since the rabies virus may remain active on your furry loved one’s skin or fur for up to two hours, make sure that you don’t touch your companion, or use gloves and protective gear if you will.

Normally, if your companion is up to date on his or her vaccination shots, a rabies booster will be enough, though you may have to observe your furry family member for about 45 days.

Caution is key

Remember that you can never be too careful when it comes to the possibility of being exposed to rabies.With a practically 100% fatality rate, vaccination is the only safe answer if you think you may have been exposed to it. And for our furry family, it’s always a good idea to have them vaccinated and to have the booster shots faithfully followed up.

Rabies, vampires and werewolves

According to a 2014 online article from the University of Melbourne,Spanish neurologist Dr.Juan Gomez suggested in 1998 that rabies could be the basis for vampire myths. He found out that rabies outbreaks in 18th-century Europe matched up to the first reported sightings of vampires. And with vampires wanting to suck your blood through biting, the rabies connection isn’t too farfetched.

On the other hand, Ian Woodward suggested in his 1978 book The Werewolf Delusion that the late-stage aggression and dementia could have influenced the creation of werewolf myths.

It just goes to show how diseases and medical condition can be at the center of popular myths.

FAQS: Here are some questions you might have about rabies

1. Does my indoor companion animals still need rabies vaccines?

Absolutely! You never know when your companion may decide to sneak out, or if a rabid animal from the outside might be able to find their way into your home. Given how dangerous rabies is, you shouldn’t leave anything to chance.

2. Are the human and animal rabies shots the same?

That’s a good question. The best answer is that it’s best to use vaccine types specific to the one they will be used on: canine, feline, or human, for example. This is because the other components in the vaccine may not exactly be designed for other animals. This may create adverse reactions in the recipient, such as allergic reactions.

3. Do you need vaccines if you’ve only been scratched, not bitten?

In a word, yes! Do remember that the medium for transmission is saliva, so if you are licked by an infected individual, or scratched by claws which were cleaned by licking beforehand, you can be potentially infected. If you’ve been scratched by a canine or feline that you are not familiar with, or do not know if he or she has been vaccinated, then it’s a good idea to be vaccinated immediately, yourself.

4. Does the bite site affect the incubation period?

From personal experience, the staff of the Animal Bite Center in San Lazaro Hospital always ask where one has been bitten. It determines their diagnostic analysis of a patient’s situation.

After some research, I found out that the rabies virus travels through never pathways to reach the brain. It stands to reason that the farther the bite or wound area is from the brain (the hands, and feet, for example), the longer it takes for the virus to reach its destination. That may also mean that a closer wound requires more immediate medical treatment.

Origins of World Rabies Day

World Rabies Day is commemorated to raise awareness about rabies prevention, and to encourage progress in minimizing the spread of rabies or finding a cure.

The main coordinator is the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, a US-based non-profit organization. The date, September 28, is the death anniversary of Louis Pasteur who, along with Emile Roux, developed the first rabies vaccine in 1885, according to the World Health Organization.

Where to get shots in the time of COVID

Given the recent announcement of various hospitals concerning non-COVID ER admitting guidelines, it’s best to assume that larger hospitals still have animal bite treatment facilities. However, the traditional center for animal bite treatment is San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

After I was bitten by one of our puppies lately, I was still able to go to San Lazaro. If you wish to call them up before going, do try the following numbers: (02) 8732-3778, 8732-3776, 8732-3174, 8732-3138, 8732-3179, and 8732-3107.

The Milwaukee protocol

The Milwaukee protocol is the name for an experimental rabies treatment that was attempted a few times. The idea was to place the rabies-infected patient into a medically-induced coma, then give a powerful round of antiviral drugs.

Putting the patient in a coma was supposed to minimize damage through lowered brain activity while the immune system fought off the virus.While it worked for the first patient in 2004 in a Milwaukee hospital (hence the name), succeeding attempts to use it on patients have had mixed results, and even conflicting data on how many have survived.

Unfortunately, the treatment has a low chance of success in any case, and it’s very expensive. It’s still better to get our companions vaccinated regularly, and for us to be vaccinated immediately after a possible rabies event.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November-December 2020 issue.

You might want to read:
– Manila City gov’t offers free pet vaccination on World Rabies Day