Rabies is now an uncommon disease but there are still reported cases. Rabies is caused by a virus that is present in infected animals and spreads to humans via scratches or bites. Wild animals carry the highest risk especially bats as well as skunks, raccoons, coyotes and foxes.
Domestic pets such as cats and dogs are usually given immunization against rabies. The incubation period ranges from 4-6 weeks, but can be brief especially with bites on the face or longer if the legs or feet are involved.
What are the indications?
Once the rabies virus moves into the body, it travels along the nerve pathways up to the brain. It can trigger significant symptoms that start with pain, tingling sensation and numbness at the area of the bite site or scratch and rapidly progresses to:
- Restlessness, anxiety and aggressiveness
- Difficulty swallowing especially water
- Muscle spasms
- Coma and death
What should I do?
When a child has been bitten by an animal, you must flush the wound thoroughly using water and wash with soap.
If possible, the animal responsible must be captured to be assessed by a veterinarian for the presence of rabies infection. Pets who appear normal and have been given immunization can be monitored for any symptoms. The observation period must extend for 10 days. If the animal starts to show symptoms, it is killed and the brain is examined.
When to call a doctor
Once a child is bitten by an animal, a doctor should be consulted. Remember that all animal bites must be reported to health professionals.
Any bite from a wild animal must be considered at high possibility for rabies until established otherwise. Exemptions to this include hares, rabbits, rats, squirrels, mice and other small rodents. In case a bat is present in a room where a child has been playing or sleeping, report it to a doctor right away even if there are no bite marks.
After a bite, if the doctor confirms that there is high risk for rabies, the child is given the rabies immune globulin which is a form of passive immunization. This is injected into the skin around the bite site. The doctor will administer injections of the rabies vaccination which stimulates the body to produce its own antibodies against the infection. Generally, the child is given a series of 5 injections over a span of 4 weeks.