Every traveller and holiday-goer should be aware of the risks rabies presents to you and your family
Rabies is a serious viral disease which impacts the nerves and brain. It is most commonly transmitted via the bite of an infected animal. If treatment is sought quickly, rabies can be prevented, but failing to seek treatment can lead to symptoms which can often be fatal.
The condition is rare among travellers. It is responsible for around 59,000 deaths a year, but very few of these occur among UK travellers and holiday-goers.
However, it is still important to be aware of the risks of the condition, in order to reduce your risk even further. Children are more likely to approach potentially infected animals while abroad, so being aware of the condition can give you the upper hand when it comes to keeping your family safe from rabies this summer.
That’s why we’ve answered some of the most common questions surrounding the conditions.
“What causes rabies?”
The rabies virus is carried by infected animals in their saliva, and enters the body through broken skin or the eyes, nose or mouth. From here, it travels through the nerves to the brain, where it causes inflammation and damage.
Raccoons and bats are among the most likely animals to carry the virus, along with foxes, skunks and ferrets. Smaller rodents like hamsters, mice, squirrels and rabbits are rarely infected. Although widespread animal vaccination means that dogs don’t carry the condition in the likes of the UK and USA, elsewhere in the world rabid dogs are the most common carriers of the disease.
“Is it contagious?”
No, rabies cannot be spread from person to person. It generally only occurs when the saliva of an infected animal enters directly into a person’s mouth, eyes, nose or open wound. This is why animal bites are the most common cause of the condition.
“What are the symptoms of rabies?”
It can be difficult to know whether or not rabies has been contracted, as symptoms can appear anywhere from a few days to more than a year after being bitten.
The early signs include a tingling, itching or stinging feeling around the bite. This can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle ache, nausea, headache, tiredness and loss of appetite.
Following this, neurological symptoms develop. These include:
- Confusion, hallucinations and bizarre thoughts
- Excessive movement and agitation
- Irritability and aggression
- Muscle spasm and unusual posture
- Extreme sensitivity to light, sound and touch
Rabies can also cause sufferers to produce a lot of saliva. When paired with muscle spasms, this can make it difficult to swallow. This leads to the ‘foaming at the mouth’ which is so synonymous with the rabies virus.
“How can I prevent rabies?”
A few simple precautions can greatly reduce your family’s chance of rabies exposure while abroad. Firstly, avoid any stray animals. Remind your children not to touch, stroke or feed stray cats and dogs. They may look sweet, but the temperaments of stray animals can be unpredictable.
If a bite does occur, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and cover the bite with a clean bandage. You should then contact healthcare professionals immediately and head to the nearest emergency department.
The safest way to avoid infection while on holiday is to get vaccinated. The rabies vaccination is designed to eradicate the chance of the disease occurring, so you can travel with peace of mind.