Rabies Symptoms In Humans

Rabies Symptoms in Humans, Facts, Treatment And Prognosis

A viral disease that affects the brain, rabies is thankfully less common than it once was. However, it does occur from time to time so it is essential that we talk about rabies symptoms in humans, how they come about, what the result will be and how the disease is treated. We have known about rabies for many years and it is now eliminated in parts of the western world, but the chances of a rabid dog biting a human are still there in some places, and it is endemic in most of the USA. As 97% of cases of rabies are from dog bites, it is important to focus on this source. Rabies is known to kill over 50,000 people each year, the majority in Africa and Asia. There are successful vaccines for rabies in humans, so we will also talk about diagnosis and treatment, but it is a fact that there is no actual cure for the disease.

What Are Rabies Symptoms And Signs In Humans?

It is important to understand the signs of rabies in a human, particularly if you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog you suspect is a carrier. One of the problems with rabies is that it can take some time to manifest; the first symptoms you notice will be similar to those experienced with flu, and rabies is sometimes mis-diagnosed as such. These can occur anywhere been two to 12 weeks after infection. The main symptoms are as follows:

  • Flu like symptoms
  • Loss of movement in limbs
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety and insomnia
  • Confusion
  • In extreme cases, delirium

Furthermore, rabies is also known as Hydrophobia, and patients can become panic-stricken when offered liquids to drink. This is one way of differentiating between rabies and other brain diseases, also known as encephalitis. If any of the above are experienced after being bitten by a suspected rabid dog, medical help should be sought immediately and urgently.

Rabies Facts

There is much confusion about rabies, so we have put together some rabies facts for you:

  • Rabies causes the swelling of the brain
  • There is no known cure for rabies, so it is usually fatal
  • It is caught generally from rabid dogs, sometimes other animals
  • It has been eliminated in the UK
  • It can affect any warm-blooded animal
  • There is no way to actually test for rabies in a live animal

These, and other rather alarming facts, indicate why it is best to work towards prevention of rabies. There is plenty of advice about prevention, including the following tips:

  • Avoid unknown and stray dogs
  • Make sure your dogs are vaccinated correctly
  • If bitten, wash the wound carefully and attend a doctor
  • Contact the relevant authorities if you see strays

Common sense is important in preventing rabies, and there are treatments that can be given before the onset of infection that are successful in preventing the disease.

What Is Rabies?

To recap, rabies is a viral disease that is a form of encephalitis; this means it causes the brain to swell and affects the operation of the central nervous system. The virus is so severe that, if allowed to reach the central nervous system, it is effectively untreatable, and will cause death within days. The rabies virus was known in the 19th century and largely eliminated from the UK in the 20th century, and countries such as Australia and Japan are also now rabies-free. However, in the USA and parts of Europe, let alone elsewhere in the world, it can still be found.

How To Test For Rabies In Humans?

There is no definite test for rabies in humans, but there are several separate tests that can help diagnose the disease. It is important that anyone who thinks they may have been bitten by an animal carrying the disease ensures these are carried out thoroughly, in order to prevent the virus going the course. These tests include analysing the saliva, blood, spinal fluid and also hair follicles, and it helps if the suspect animal has also been caught. Getting this done as quickly as possible is essential, and can be a life saving act.

How Soon After An Exposure Should a Person Seek Medical Attention?

Quite simply, as soon as is possible; if you suspect that you have been bitten by an animal carrying rabies you need to seek help right away. Leaving the virus to make its way to the central nervous system is almost certain to be fatal. You should contact a medical practitioner as soon as you can and have them perform the necessary tests as described above.

What Is The Treatment?

If a person is found to have contracted rabies there is no cure; they will most likely die in a few days. This is why we prescribe early analysis, for there are ways of preventing the virus from making its way to the brain. Here is what you should do if you have been bitten:

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, as this removes the viral particles.
  • Apply an antiseptic if at all possible
  • Visit your medical practitioner and have a proper diagnosis.

There are vaccines that can be given that will help stop the virus from travelling to its destination, and there are also other treatments that the doctor will prescribe. These include vaccinations into the muscles, management of the blood-brain barrier to prevent the viral transmission, and other such treatments. It is vital that any suspected victim receives all the recommended treatment in good time.


As we have already said, but are more than happy to repeat, if rabies goes undetected and is allowed to progress to the central nervous system it will very likely be fatal. However, the post-exposure treatments mentioned above have been proven to be very successful in preventing the disease from developing. These treatments are usually carried out within ten days of the bite, and will make sure the victim does not develop rabies.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand rabies, a disease that is feared and fatal. It is important that anyone who is bitten visits their medical practitioner right away, and receives the correct post-exposure treatment. This way we can help to eliminate rabies entirely.

Written By John Moorcroft

John Moorcroft, MD, is a highly regarded specialist in Tropical Diseases. Dr Moorcroft studied at the University School of Medicine, gaining a high distinction with a research project in West Nile Disease. His later education included an MD in Pathological Research at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore.


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