Rabies is a disease that has been around for a very long time, thankfully it was irradiated from the UK in the early 20th century, with only a tiny amount of people dying from it (all had contracted it overseas). There have only been 26 deaths in the UK since 1902.

Rabies is a deadly disease that can be transmitted to humans, and causes the death of more than 55,000 people a year worldwide, China, India and Russia are particularly affected, especially children.

Affecting mainly mammals, Rabies is a viral disease that will cause swelling of the brain. The first symptoms are often fever and tingling, this will progress to violent movements, unnatural excitement, confusion and strangely fear of water. It can take up to a year for symptoms to show, but one they do show result is usually death. Rabies can be treated if caught early enough (before symptoms present themselves).

In the UK there is no requirement to vaccinate your dog against rabies, although if you are travelling abroad you should obtain a vaccination.

Rabies is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal, the virus can be transmitted even before the the biting animal shows any signs of the disease. The saliva is the mechanism of transmission, and contains a large quantity of the virus. There are cases where transmission has occurred via scratches or by licking of the skin by an infected animal. Transmission of rabies from human to human is extremely rare.

Rabies is a very fragile virus, and as such cannot survive for extended periods of time outside of the body. It is sensitive to light, heat and oxygen. Therefore an object chewed or contaminated with saliva from a rabid animal will not be dangerous for a long period.

The virus is neurotropic, this means it disrupts the nervous system and eventually the brain, this inflammation of the brain will lead to death in a few days.

The incubation period of rabies can vary from between a week and over a year, this difference in time is determined by the length of time taken for the virus to migrate from the initial bite site, to the brain via the spinal cord.

Three phases to a rabies infection

  1. Inflammation around the bite site, this will be followed by a fever and small changes in behaviour and mood, in the later stages pupils will dilate and reflexes slow down. You may also notice a change in the noises the dog makes.
  2. Increased aggression, clumsiness, disorientation, increased dribbling. Strange out of character behaviours may be observed - biting, running away, swallowing inanimate objects.
  3. Paralysis, starting with the jaws, before becoming total. Death by paralysis of the respiratory system will occur within 4 to 5 days.

Treatment, Prevention and Control

After the onset of symptoms, no treatment is effective and the animal must be euthanised.

Vaccination is a very effective way to protect dogs. It is important that the first injection is given after 3 months, regular boosters are required and a passport is then issued.

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