Rabies is an acute viral disease of the mammalian central nervous system. To prevent it, a person at risk of infection, e.g. bit by a wild animal, should receive a vaccination as soon as possible.

The infection results from a bite or through a direct contact of mucosas or damaged skin with the saliva of a rabid animal.

The symptoms

After a few weeks of incubation, the infection manifests with non-specific symptoms such as headaches, fever, anxiety, nausea and agitation.

At a later stage, muscle paralysis and a coma occur. Symptoms characteristic of rabies include hydrophobia and photophobia.

When the symptoms appear, however, it is usually too late to help the patient. That’s why a doctor must be consulted at the earliest opportunity, whenever a person is bit, spit on or scratched by an animal which may be rabid or infected by the virus.

How to prevent the disease

To prevent the disease, a vaccine must be administered as soon as possible after a rabies incident (nowadays the vaccination is not painful). Besides ordering vaccination, doctors may recommend taking an antiserum. On the other hand, inoculating patients who have already contracted the disease is pointless, and no medication against rabies is available.

It is worth noting that the Polish Animal Protection Act requires dogs to be inoculated against the disease - the first dose within 30 days after the dog reaches three months of life, and then at least once a year. Evading this legal obligation may result in a fine.

To minimise the risk of infection, under no condition should anyone touch random dead animals. If such contact had nevertheless occurred, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Rabies worldwide

Rabies can be found in nearly every corner of the world. Most fatalities among the yearly total of 55 thousand are recorded in Africa and Asia.

The main hazard comes from stray cats and dogs wandering about near human settlements. One of the groups especially exposed to the risk of rabies includes cavers who may contract it by being licked or touched by cave bats.

Depending on the individual risk, travellers who go to the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Central and South America are advised to undergo preventive vaccination. (more information on the topic can be found on a website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – www.szczepieniadlapodrozujacych.pl)

... and in Poland

In the first years after World War II, the main carriers of rabies in Poland were dogs. The obligatory vaccinations introduced by law in 1949 substantially curbed its incidence. Currently, the virus is spread by wild foxes whose population in Poland has been estimated at about 200 thousand. Bit by a fox, a domesticated animal or pet becomes hazardous also to people.

In 1993, a campaign for administering oral vaccinations to foxes started. This type of vaccination is mandatory under the Animal Protection Act.

In 2011, rabies was found in 103 foxes and 57 members of other species – nine dogs (among them one stray dog), ten cats, fourteen head of cattle, one pig, two raccoon dogs, four badgers, nine martens, two roes, one deer, four bats and one fallow deer.

In 2013, the National Institute of Hygiene recorded 7.8 thousand cases of exposure to rabies, in which vaccinations had to be administered.

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