Rabies: Symptoms and treatment

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Symptoms of rabies

Rabies is fatal unless you get treatment before symptoms develop.

Symptoms of rabies usually take about 3 to 8 weeks to develop. However, this can also range from several days to many months. Once symptoms appear, death usually occurs within 7 to 14 days.

How quickly rabies symptoms appear depends on the:

To cause an infection, the rabies virus must enter the body and reach the nerve cells. The virus then travels through the nerves to the spinal cord and brain. It makes copies of itself in the brain and then travels back through the nerves to certain parts of the body. This is what causes the symptoms of rabies.

Early rabies symptoms can include:

You may also feel pain, tingling, numbness or itching around the area where an animal has bitten, scratched or licked.

Symptoms worsen quickly as the virus attacks the central nervous system. The neurologic symptoms can take the following 2 forms: encephalitic rabies and paralytic rabies.

Encephalitic rabies

Encephalitic rabies is the more common type of rabies and occurs in about 80% of patients. Encephalitis refers to inflammation and swelling of the brain.

Symptoms can include:

Paralytic rabies

Paralytic rabies occurs in about 20% of patients.

Symptoms of paralytic rabies include weakness and gradual paralysis, often starting near the wound site and progressing slowly.

If you've been exposed

If you've been in contact with an animal that may have rabies, take steps to reduce the risk of rabies infection.

Contact your health care provider if you:

Exposures could be local or through travel.

Go to the hospital immediately if you think you're developing symptoms of rabies.

Learn more about:

Diagnosing rabies

It's possible for an exposed person to be tested for rabies, but it often occurs after symptoms develop. Seek medical attention immediately if you think you may have been exposed to an animal that's infected with rabies.

If the animal that may have exposed you is caught, it's possible to test the animal to confirm infection. Testing is done on the brain of the deceased animal.

Treating rabies

It's important to remember that rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms develop. It's critical to contact your health care provider immediately, so that preventive treatment can be started. This involves multiple injections of rabies post-exposure vaccine. You'll also need to receive an injection of antibodies to help your body fight the virus.

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