Rabies (cont.)

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What are rabies symptoms and signs in humans?

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After the first exposure (in most people, an animal bite), the symptoms of itching or discomfort like pins or needles pricking the skin occur at the bite area. In addition, the person may develop fever and a headache. Investigators suggest these symptoms may last from about two days to weeks. This is the acute phase or the acute incubation phase of the disease. Unfortunately, there is another incubation period before the next set of signs and symptoms develop. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that the average latent incubation period is about three to seven weeks, although they do report a range from seven days to 10 years, with the longer time periods occurring infrequently.

The symptoms and signs of rabies in humans may consist of some or many of the following according to the CDC and NIH:

  • Anxiety, stress, and tension
  • Delirium
  • Drooling
  • Convulsions
  • Exaggerated sensation at the bite site
  • Excitability or combativeness
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of feeling in an area of the body
  • Loss of muscle function
  • Low-grade fever (102 F or lower)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain at the site of the bite
  • Restlessness, insomnia
  • Swallowing difficulty (drinking causes throat spasms and the person may become hydrophobic)

When these symptoms develop, the person will likely die from the disease. Less than 10 people have survived after developing such clinical rabies symptoms, and most of the few survivors had some previous level of treatment. When people develop clinical rabies, the best treatment is supportive care.

Pictures of muscle spasms and delirium in a person with clinical rabies; note the need for restraints.
Figure 1: Muscle spasms and delirium in a person with clinical rabies; note the need for restraints. SOURCE: CDC

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