Animal Lovers, Beware!
By “Awake!” correspondent in Australia
THE disease affects the central nervous system, causing apparent loss of sanity. Attempts to drink, on the part of its victims, result in inability to swallow and usually cause painful spasms of choking or gagging. That is why some have called it “hydrophobia,” meaning “fear of water.”
Perhaps you have guessed that we are speaking of a disease more commonly known as “rabies.” The name comes from a Latin word meaning “madness, rage.” It is caused by the bite of an animal with the rabies virus in its saliva. All warm-blooded animals and man are susceptible.
Between 1959 and 1973 rabies was responsible for the deaths of at least 11,000 persons. Experts feel that a truer figure would be 50,000. The illness has plagued mankind since the beginning of recorded history and in many areas is a threat especially to animal lovers. There is no proved instance of the recovery of man from rabies.
Identifying the Illness
After infection unvaccinated animals may take four months or longer to develop the disease. The risk of humans becoming infected during this incubation period is especially high, for at this time animals may not show notable symptoms. In advanced stages of rabies, however, the following behavior changes will take place:
With DOGS there will be aggressiveness, a tendency to attack and bite without provocation and emission of slimy froth from the mouth. A common symptom is “the rabid bark,” ending in a piercing note. The animal may refuse to eat. It may try to drink but will be unable to swallow. It may run long distances, biting at anything in its path. Sometimes paralysis and twitching of one or more limbs set in. Death usually occurs within a week after the onset of these obvious signs.
CATS display similar symptoms; but cats seek rest and shade. Rabid cats also bite persistently.
With HORSES there is noticeable irritation at the site of infection. The animals gnaw at it and press against walls. They also become restless, butt, and bite foreign bodies so that some teeth may be broken. The palate muscles may become paralyzed, resulting in regurgitation of food and liquid through the nostrils. And rabid horses often experience increased sexual desire.
BOVINES display symptoms of rabies in various combinations, including frequent lowing, colic, continuous salivation and restlessness. It is similar with sheep. However, humans have little to fear from infected livestock, since it is their nature not to bite.
WILD ANIMALS, including coyotes, foxes, skunks and squirrels, may become unusually friendly and tame. The major symptom is loss of instinct for self-preservation.
Rabies and Humans
Usually the incubation period for humans ranges from three to eight weeks. In rare instances, it has been as short as 10 days and as long as eight months. However, warning signs regularly appear during the first two to four days. These include headaches, fever, physical discomfort and nervousness.
Of course, these symptoms could be due to a number of minor ailments. But if rabies is prevalent in your area, it would be wise to visit a physician at the appearance of even such common evidences of illness.
If no immediate treatment is obtained, a positive reaction will occur after the incubation period. The illness will cause mental derangement, including hallucinations. There will be pain, fever, vomiting, profuse secretion of sticky saliva, convulsions, paralysis and difficulty in breathing and swallowing. In nearly every case, death occurs in two to five days. The virus will have established itself so firmly in the nervous tissue that vaccination is no longer of any help.
What can you do to avoid such dire consequences? The next time a playful puppy or a kitten licks you or someone in your household, think: Is rabies prevalent in our area? If saliva from a rabid animal enters the body through a break in the skin, the consequences could be serious, if treatment is not sought immediately. The threat of hydrophobia is especially great for children, since they are usually unaware of the danger and often fail to inform their parents.
This is not said to induce panic in every household with pets. There are many areas where rabies is relatively rare. Too, even where individuals do not seek treatment, only about one in six bitten by rabid animals develops the disease. This is because not every animal with the virus in the brain has it in the salivary glands. And infection may not occur if the skin is only superficially injured or if the bite is through clothing.
Nevertheless, rather than take chances, it is best to report all animal bites to your doctor promptly. There are now available various types of vaccines and serums to counteract the rabies virus. The more recently developed of these are quite effective and without dangerous side effects.
What to Do if Bitten
If one has not been vaccinated and is attacked by an animal suspected of being rabid, here are some things to do:
(1) As far as possible, try to avoid being bitten on the face, neck or hands. After entering the body the virus travels along the nerves to the brain. The farther the bite is from the head, the longer it takes to reach the brain.
(2)Try to identify the animal’s characteristics so that it can be captured. Have a veterinarian examine it as soon as possible. A definite diagnosis of rabies may take several days.
(3) If it is a wild animal, try to kill it without damaging the head. This will permit examination of the brain to establish whether rabies is present.
(4) Wash the bite as soon as possible with ordinary soap and water or a detergent solution. Then apply an antiseptic or a disinfectant such as ether or alcohol. Whenever practical, wounds from animal bites should be allowed to bleed freely.
(5) Consult a doctor immediately, or go to the nearest anti-rabies treatment center. A special detailed “Guide for Specific Postexposure Treatment on Rabies” has been prepared for doctors by the Expert Committee of Rabies of the World Health Organization.
Affectionate interplay between animals and humans can be enjoyable. However, animal lovers in areas where rabies is known to occur must beware. Negligence could cost a person his health, if not his life.