Rabies is a deadly disease spread widely all over the world. Every year over 55,000 people die, with over 95% of the deaths occurring in Asia and Africa.

Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The virus is secreted in saliva and is commonly transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected animal. Less commonly, rabies can be transmitted when saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with an open cut or wound.

You should seek medical attention for any animal bite and wash the wound vigorously with soap and lots of water. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop infection and prevent the disease from developing.

The period between infection and the first symptoms (known as the incubation period) can be anywhere from one week to more than a year. The closer the bite is to the head, generally, the shorter the incubation period. Most people first develop symptoms of pain, tingling, itching or shooting from the bite or virus entry site. If the bite is not treated in time, they may experience flu-like symptoms including fevers, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches; and then progress to involve the respiratory, gastrointestinal and/or central nervous system. Gradually, if left untreated, people with rabies will be come extremely ill, developing a variety of symptoms including high fever, confusion, agitation and eventually seizures and coma. The primary cause of death is usually respiratory insufficiency.

Wound cleansing and immunizations, done correctly and as soon as possible, can prevent the onset of rabies in virtually 100% of exposures. Once the signs and symptoms of rabies begin to appear, there is no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal.

For more information view the World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet or discuss with your travel doctor.