Rabies (cont.)

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What is rabies?

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that enters the body through the bite of infected animals and causes brain swelling and, if not quickly treated, results in convulsions, respiratory failure, and death in almost every person infected. Very rarely, rabies has been transmitted only by saliva droplets from an infected animal that contacts a skin break (abrasion or cut, not a bite) or in rabies research laboratory accidents. Aerosols of saliva droplets or bat guano may also rarely cause rabies.

Rabies is worldwide (except for Australia and New Zealand currently); developing countries have dogs as the most common source of bites that lead to rabies. However, many wild animals (especially foxes, skunks, raccoons, and bats) in both developed and developing countries can be infected with rabies virus so their bites (and saliva) can transmit the disease to other animals and humans. Most developed countries have animal vaccination programs that effectively reduce or eliminate the source of rabies in domestic animals (especially dogs and cats); some even have programs to reduce or eliminate the virus in wild animals. For example, vaccine materials are set out in the wild for coyotes to ingest to reduce or eliminate rabies in their population in Texas. Until recently, when rabies-infected bats were found in Scotland, all of England was rabies-free due to its vaccine program. Rabies is termed a zoonosis, which means a disease that is usually transmitted from animals to other animals and but can also be transmitted to humans. The terms rabies and rabies virus (Lyssavirus rabies) are currently interchanged in most of the medical literature although technically rabies is the disease process and rabies virus is the species of lyssavirus that causes the disease. However, the dual meaning is so pervasive in the medical and lay literature that rabies will be used in this article to mean both the disease and the viral cause of the disease.

About 55,000 deaths per year worldwide are due to rabies (World Health Organization statistics), and the majority of these deaths occur in children.

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