What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a serious disease caused by the rabies virus. The rabies virus is an RNA virus that is a part of the rhabidovirus family. When a person or animal becomes infected with the rabies virus, it attacks the health of the body in one of two ways. The first way is by directly entering the nervous system and spreading to the brain. The second way is by replicating within muscle tissue, then spreading to the nervous system, then spreading to the brain. Rabies is an extremely serious condition. If the disease isn’t treated early, it almost always results in death.

The rabies virus lives in the saliva of infected mammals. It is almost always spread through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies in humans is rare in the United States, with only about 1 to 3 rabies cases reported each year, according to the CDC. In the US, rabies is usually transmitted through the bite of a wild animal, most commonly through raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Worldwide, human infection is more common, particularly in areas with high populations of stray dogs. The majority of worldwide transmissions of the rabies virus to humans are caused by dog bites.

While bites are the most common way the rabies virus is transmitted, it can be transmitted in other ways. Since the rabies virus lives in saliva, contact between any mucous membranes or broken skin with infected saliva can cause transmission. Rabies virus, however, cannot pass through unbroken skin.

It’s extremely important to treat rabies infections before symptoms of the disease appear. Once symptoms of the disease appear, the infection is almost always fatal. Because of this, it’s important that people who have been bitten by an animal seek medical attention immediately to ask their doctor about whether or not they should seek rabies treatment.

The symptoms of rabies infection are not immediate. Rabies infection symptoms can come weeks or years after the initial infection. Early stages of rabies symptoms include pain, headache, irritability, weakness, discomfort, and fever. Once the disease progresses, the symptoms of rabies can include delirium, abnormal behavior, confusion, insomnia, seizures, paralysis, hallucinations, and death.

What Is the Rabies Vaccine?

Rabies is a preventable disease. The best way to avoid rabies and protect one’s health is through avoiding contact with infected animals but the disease can also be prevented and treated through the rabies vaccine.

The rabies vaccine is a vaccine made from inactivated rabies virus. There are two kinds of rabies vaccines currently available in the United States. One is called Imovax (which is also known as the HDVC vaccine or Imovax rabies) and is produced in human diploid cell culture. The other is called RabAvert (also known as the PCECV vaccine) and is produced in chick embryo cell culture. Both of these vaccines are equally effective at preventing and treating rabies.

Both rabies vaccination treatments are administered though a series of injections. Vaccination requirements are different for various circumstances. The schedule for rabies vaccines for preventative treatment consists of three doses of injections. The vaccines are administered on specific days, on days 0, 7, and either day 21 or day 28. For those being treated with the vaccine post-exposure to the virus (who were not preventatively vaccinated), the vaccine is administered four times rather than three times (or five times for those with suppressed immune systems). For post-exposure treatment among those who previously received preventative vaccination for rabies, only two shots are needed, one on day 0 and one on day 3. More information about the recommended rabies vaccination timing can be found in the CDC’s rabies vaccine information statement.

The rabies vaccines are injected in the deltoid muscle (which is on the upper arm) and must be administered there for effectiveness. The rabies vaccines are not effective when administered to other parts of the body.

When one of the rabies vaccines is used to treat an already infected person, the human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) is also administered to those who were not vaccinated prior to exposure. The human rabies immunoglobulin is administered through one injection and must be administered in a different anatomical site than the first dose of the rabies vaccine. HRIG is usually administered on day 0 of treatment but can be administered up to seven days after the first dose of the rabies vaccine.

In addition to the rabies vaccines for people, there is also a rabies vaccination for animals. This vaccine is called Imrab and can be administered by a qualified veterinarian. To help prevent the spread of rabies in the United States, US law requires that all dogs receive and maintain rabies vaccination. Those seeking to abstain from vaccinating their dog(s) for rabies must receive a rabies vaccination exemption waiver. The waiver is currently only available in 18 states.

There are multiple kinds of Imrab vaccines for different animals. People who are searching for rabies protection for their pets other than dogs should ask their veterinarian for more information to see if the rabies vaccine would be right for them.

Do I Need a Rabies Booster Shot?

Rabies vaccination is administered through a series of injections, and all but the first are booster shots. These booster shots are needed for protection from the rabies virus.

For those receiving vaccination preventatively, it’s important that both of the required booster vaccine doses are administered on the correct days (day 7 and either day 21 or 28). For those receiving treatment after exposure, they should receive the amount of booster shots they require according whether they have been vaccinated before and their immune condition.

It’s extremely important that no rabies booster shot doses are missed. Missing a dose of the rabies vaccine can allow the rabies virus to spread throughout the body.

Who Should Get the Rabies Vaccine?

The rabies vaccine is recommended for those who are likely to come into contact with rabid animals, those traveling to and planning to spend time outdoors in areas where rabies is common, and those who work with animals (including veterinarians, animal control workers, and wildlife workers).

Additionally, those who have been bitten by an animal should always seek medical attention from their health provider to ask whether or not they need the rabies vaccine. Treating rabies before symptoms appear is critically important for the health of an infected person.

The rabies vaccine is not recommended for people who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction the rabies vaccine or any of its components, or persons currently experiencing moderate to severe illnesses. Those who are moderately to severely ill should usually wait until their health recovers before getting the vaccine. Those with weakened immune systems should talk to a doctor before receiving the vaccine.

Where Is Rabies Found?

Rabies is found on every continent except Antarctica. However, some regions have a higher risk of exposure, including Africa, Central America, Eastern Europe, Southern America, and Southern Asia.

Warner Plaza Urgent Care offers the rabies vaccine. To get vaccinated, call to make an appointment, make an appointment online, or come in for a walk-in appointment.

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