The suffering that Rabies victims go through before an inevitable death, make this one of the most horrific diseases you could be afflicted with in the world. If your pet or dog has it, or if they are even suspected of having it, the likelihood is that your pet would be destroyed and their remains cremated. This would be to prevent any cross contamination or infection. It really is such a terrible disease.
When we mention Rabies these days, we almost think of it in the past tense… What do you recall? Maybe a scary disease in history associated with the bite of an aggressive, snarling dog who is foaming from the mouth uncontrollably? The human victim dies suddenly and violently, displaying the awful symptoms of the disease that looks like absolute madness and mayhem. Then you have the ensuing witch hunt to find & destroy the unfortunate infected dog, and any others that are infected with Rabies or showing any signs of a Rabies infection. Some generations may literally know nothing of the disease other than from the mention of it as a vaccine, either for travel or for their pets.
It is a testament to the man “Louis Pasteur”, of whom we will learn a bit about later, and the privilege of focused and systematic vaccination programs in most first world countries. this is the reason why we have so little experience of this disease locally in recent years.
Privilege indeed, as in fact worldwide, Rabies is considered to be a feared, fatal and neglected disease, responsible for around 59,000 cases in humans per year. This is in predominantly, although not limited to Africa & Asia. It is said that this number is well underestimated due to underreporting, particularly in poorer rural areas. Sadly, it is also reported that approximately 50% of cases are children under the age of 15 years.
At Protectapet we are all about, you guessed it, protecting your Pets with our Pet Healthcare Plans… so here is your friendly reminder to check that your Pet vaccines are up to date and in case you didn’t know, just why it is so important!!
You will be pleased to know that the treatment of Rabies is covered by our Pet Healthcare Plans, provided that your pet is up to date with their Rabies Vaccinations prior to taking out a policy with us.
Rabies is a Viral Disease, meaning it is an infection that is caused by a virus. The Rabies virus can be transmitted from animals to humans via direct contact. The most common way that Rabies is transmitted to humans, is via a bite or scratch from a Rabies infected dog. The Rabies virus is present in the dog´s saliva and would be transferred to the human via the open wound of the bite. However, there are many species of animals, particularly bats, that can also contract and spread the Rabies virus.
“Furious Rabies” is the more common type, with some of the symptoms being violent behavior, muscle spasms and hallucinations. This will lead to eventual death.
“Paralytic Rabies” shows as a slower and less erratic progress of the disease, whereby the victim slowly becomes paralysed and enters a coma that leads again to eventual death.
Once infected, the Rabies virus will reproduce and travel to the brain and spinal cord via the nerves, causing nerve damage on its way. Once there, it will attack the central nervous system and ultimately cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The swelling of the brain and spinal cord is called Encephalitis and will result in death. The length of time it takes for Rabies symptoms to develop, can depend upon whereabouts on the body of the victim the bite/scratch was received. The further away the wound is located from the brain, the longer the journey of the Rabies virus to the brain. Once the virus cells have entered the saliva, also known as spit, the Rabies virus can then be quite easily transmitted again to more victims.
The answer to this is that all warm-blooded animals that have a back bone, (mammals) can become infected with the Rabies virus and go on to spread the disease to others. Fish, snakes and birds are not mammals therefore they are exempt. There are some species of animals who are much more frequently reported to have the virus, with wild animals dominating the statistics for cases at 92.7% reported.
With regard to the spread of the Rabies virus, a bite from a Rabies infected dog is the most common way that humans are infected with Rabies worldwide, each year.
Dogs, Cats, Ferrets, Horses, Cows, Goats and more
Bats, Stray Dogs, Raccoons, Skunks, Foxes and more
Here are some possibilities for the origin of the name Rabies, one of the oldest and most feared of contagious diseases. It is now known as Lyssavirus – Taken from the Greek goddess Lyssa, and the spirit of rage, frenzy, madness and rabies in animals.
“Lyssa” meaning “Violence”
“Rabere” meaning “To Rage”
“Rabhas” meaning “To do violence”
It makes sense that the word Rabies is probably derived from the above seeing as Rabid animals look like they are enraged, crazy, foaming at the mouth, angry and violent.
Rabies is considered to be one of the oldest known diseases in the world. The first written reference to it was discovered in 1945 and 1947 on two ancient tablets that were found in modern day Iraq, known in ancient times as Mesopotamia. The tablets were inscribed with the “laws of the time” approximately 1930 BC, which was over 4000 years ago!
The particular ancient law that is seen to make a reference to Rabies is as follows:
“If a dog is vicious and the ward authorities so notify its owner, but he fails to control his dog and it bites a man and thus causes his death, the owner of the dog shall weigh and deliver 40 shekels of silver.”
For those who are interested in learning more about this piece of history the tablets are called the “Mesopotamian Laws of Eshnunna”.
However, it was not until the 19th Century that Rabies was accurately diagnosed, and active steps were made to reduce the risk of mass infection by the destruction of stray dogs.
The breakthrough came in the 1880´s when a vaccine was developed by a French chemist and microbiologist called Louis Pasteur.
Thanks to Louis Pasteur and his research, the Rabies vaccine revolutionised the combat of the virus and other infectious diseases. For example, In Europe there was an outbreak of Rabies in the Red Fox Population in 1940 between Russia and Poland. The Rabies infections spread to southern France, so the European Union financed the production and distribution of an Oral Rabies Vaccination amongst the Red Fox population. This was a successful Anti-rabies programme that was effective in controlling the Rabies virus outbreak.
The usual attempts to control the disease were made in 1786 measurements were made to control the movement of Cats & Dogs. In the 1900´s there was a focused effort, much the same as many other countries in Europe, to totally eliminate the Virus with an Anti-Rabies campaign by way of mass inoculations of Dogs. The mission was a success and Spain was declared Rabies free in 1966.
There was however an outbreak recorded in 1975 in Malaga resulting in one human fatality and many animal fatalities. Needless to say, preventative health measures were put in place such as vaccinations of high-risk animals, quarantine for suspected cases in animals and the culling of stray dogs and a dog census.
Since 1979 the only reported cases of Rabies in Spain have been in Bats (The first case was recorded in Valencia in 1987). Bat bites are indeed a risk factor for contracting the Rabies virus in Spain and other countries such as the USA.
This risk should not be underestimated or overlooked, as there have been human fatalities as a result of contracting Rabies from Bats. This could be because the symptoms of Rabies may not present themselves in Bats in the same manner as say dogs. A Bat that is infected with Rabies could be docile, unmoving or simply found active during daylight hours. Therefore, a bat bite may not raise an initial alarm, and certainly cause only a minimal if not an undetectable wound because their teeth are very small and their bite marks disappear quickly.
I think the point here is: there is a risk of contracting the Rabies virus from bats, so if you do get bitten by a bat that seems to be behaving in an unusual manner, please seek medical advice, just in case.
In all fairness, probably the biggest and most consistent risk to Spain for the spread of Rabies, is from the importation of animals from other high-risk countries.
The weakest point of entry historically, has always been from North Africa via Morocco to the Southern Provinces of Spain. Geographically they are only 14km apart at the Strait of Gibraltar, this is just a 35 minute ferry ride.
In recent times there has been an increase in families and their pets arriving from the Ukraine to Spain and indeed to other countries in Europe. Of course, the risk factor of Rabies spreading to Spain would be much higher due to the fact that the Ukraine has many, many cases of Rabies in Animals & Humans.
In order to control the passage of Rabies, the Spanish Government have implemented strict and regularly updated restrictions on the passage of Animals in and out of Spain.
There are four stages that the body goes through once infected with the Rabies virus.
Initially, there will be no obvious physical symptoms. This is because it can take days or even up to a year for the Rabies virus to get into the body´s nervous system. It is at this early stage that vaccination and treatment can be effective in combating the Rabies virus.
This is the point at which vaccines and medicines will be ineffective in preventing death. This is because the Rabies virus has now reached the nervous system causing nerve damage as it travels to the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms start to present as the immune system tries to fight the Rabies virus. This stage usually lasts between 2 and 10 days. Symptoms are: sore throat, cough, fatigue, high temperature, muscular pain, diarrheoa, nausea, vomiting and pain/numbness/itching or burning sensation to the area of the bite wound.
Otherwise known as the Excitation Phase of Rabies, this is when the Rabies virus has reached the brain and spinal cord causing inflammation/swelling. This stage usually lasts for around a week.
Aggression, different sized pupils, anxiety, delirium, excessive salivation, facial paralysis, hallucinations, high temperature, hyperventilation, fear of water/drinking, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, restlessness, seizures, racing heart, weakness of the facial muscles.
Coma, headache, high temperature, paralysis, stiffness in the neck, tingling, weakness of the muscles, originating from the bite area and spreading across the body.
The final stage of the rabies infection is coma, and this usually lasts for between five and fourteen days. Coma is the end result of the damage that has been caused to the brain and spinal cord.
At this point, if the patient has experienced the symptoms of fear of water/drinking that shows as the inability to swallow in the earlier stages of the Rabies infection, this symptom will now disappear and they will be able to swallow again although not without some difficulty. A general paralysis begins and progresses to coma. Ultimately death occurs as a result of the damage caused in the previous stages such as organ, respiratory & cardiac failure. That is if the patient has not already succumbed to other complications that may have arisen from previous symptoms.
The only conclusive test for Rabies is to test brain samples from two locations, the brain stem and the cerebellum. This means the animal has to be put down first, which is unfortunate as in the USA alone, approximately 120,000 animals are tested each year with only around 6% of those having a positive result for the Rabies virus. An animal that is suspected of having the Rabies Virus and has bitten a human will have to be tested this way.
Of course, this test is not an option for humans with the hope of survival, therefore several different tests are required.
A medical practitioner may take into consideration what kind of exposure to the rabies virus occurred, what animal was involved (if it is available for testing) and local geographical information.
For diagnosis of Rabies in humans, different tests would be potentially carried out on saliva, skin, blood, spinal fluid and hair follicles to look for evidence of the virus. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan may also be carried out so that the doctors can further investigate the presence of Rabies via images.
If available, the results from the conclusive test of the animal that caused the bite are realized. If the animal´s test results are negative then there is no need to carry out any further medical treatment.
It is recommended that the first course of action is to vigorously wash the wound with soap, and flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
Apply an antiviral treatment such as iodine or alcohol. It is also not advised to close the wound up with plasters/ dressings or bandages until you have received medical advice.
Contact a doctor immediately, they will review the situation and decide what the best course of action to take is.
If you are not vaccinated against Rabies, the only effective way to prevent developing Rabies after exposure is to receive the correct doses of vaccine. Post Exposure Prophylaxis and Human Rabies Immune Globulin via injection should be administered as soon as possible. This will be a course of vaccinations that usually occurs over the duration of 14 days with possibly a course of oral medication to follow.
This treatment has to be administered before symptoms of Rabies appear, in order for it to be successful and for the person to make a full recovery.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that if it is possible to contain the animal that caused the bite/scratch for isolation and testing, that will be hugely beneficial to public health.
Rabies can be found on every continent in the world apart from Antarctica. If you are planning to travel abroad it is important to check with your GP to see if your destination country recommends a pre-exposure Rabies vaccination. In fact, there may be a recommendation for a series of vaccinations for travel to certain countries for other diseases such as Yellow Fever and Malaria, amongst others.
The chances of contracting the Rabies virus are increased for people who work with animals or with the Rabies virus, and those who travel or live in areas where Rabies is not under control.
If you enjoy outside activities with close proximity to wild animals such as camping offsite and exploring caves where Bats maybe found and disturbed, you must consider this as a risk and be mindful.
-Always try to keep your pets away from wild animals, keep them indoors if necessary.
-If you have small pets such as rabbits or guinea pigs, keep them in suitable protective cages or inside.
-Keep your distance from wild animals especially if they seem uncharacteristically friendly.
-Never encourage Bats around your home, close any external holes or cracks in the house or surrounding outbuildings.
Consult with your Veterinary Surgery about vaccinating your pets for Rabies, currently the vaccine needs to be administered every 2 years, and costs around 25€ for cats and dogs.
IMPORTANT! Our Pet Healthcare Plans require that all Dogs and Cats are fully vaccinated prior to contracting our policies. They must also be regularly updated according to your Vets recommendation. This means that if your pet ever does contract the Rabies virus you will be covered by Protectapet for the medical attention required.
It is also worth pointing out that it is now required by Law to vaccinate your Cat for Rabies, even if they are indoor cats. Your cat will also need to be vaccinated against rabies if you want to qualify for any rabies treatment with our Protectapet Pet healthcare plans for cats. The symptoms of a Rabies infection in cats are much the same as for everyone and the treatment is the same. Please do get your cat vaccinated for Rabies alongside other routine vaccinations. Cat fights do happen, particularly in Spain, where there is a large population of feral cats so there is always a risk that your cat could contract the Rabies Virus.
Remember that the Rabies virus is transmitted via saliva, therefore cat scratches provide a relatively low risk for being infected with Rabies. Saying that, when cats are fighting there is usually a lot of hissing, so in theory the saliva could still come into contact with an open wound and cause an infection of the Rabies virus.
Rabies is preventable. How?
Firstly - with the use of a mass vaccination program for dogs, success according to The World Health Organization means reaching a 70% coverage of the dog population.
Secondly - vaccination to humans as a preventative action, such as when traveling to high-risk countries, and as a post exposure treatment for the Rabies virus.
Thirdly - vaccination of other animals such as wild cats or horses that pose a risk of transmission to humans. this is the work of local community health professionals to be alert and responsive to changes, reports and trends.
A massive consideration, as always is the financial one. The medicinal treatment of the Rabies Virus for humans is indeed far more expensive than the immunization of Dogs, and therefore the immunization of dogs and other animals at risk is by far the more prevalent method used today.
So, Lastly… to EDUCATE.
Knowledge is Power! it is very important that time and effort is spent to educate as many communities as possible about the possibility of contracting Rabies from animals. To make everyone aware of what Rabies is, what it´s risk factors are, how to identify it and how to help protect our communities from it.
At Protectapet we hope you have found this article informative and also somewhat interesting.
Please help spread awareness by striking up a conversation with friends about the things you have learnt or maybe share this article with people whom you feel would be interested in learning more about the Rabies virus!
Protectapet offer these interesting articles for information purposes only. Care is taken to ensure that the information is correct at the time of going to print, but like all things printed, the information contained within them can change rapidly, particularly when it pertains to treatments for diseases in pets or the type of diseases under discussion. If you should happen to spot a mistake, or have additional information that may help our clients receive the latest information please contact us.
Copyright and all rights reserved, Protectapet, The european Pet Healthcare management Organisation.
this article "Rabies in Spain" has been written in collaboration with Tangalina and White Mouse Media on behalf of Protectapet.