Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 18:30:03 -0400
Subject: Re: Wile E., More on Rabies please
Joseph L Lunenschloss wrote:
> Wile E.,
> I have never heard the full story on Rabies infecting humans. What is
> the progression of the disease? Time from infection to manifestation
> of symptons, etc? I was not even aware that it was 100% fatal.
Rabies is caused by a viral organism, a rhabdovirus. It's an
encephalitis (an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain
and spinal cord) that enters via an open wound contaminated by saliva,
almost always from a bite. Skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats are the
most common wild animal carriers; dogs and cats are the most common
vector between the wild reservoir and humans. Because rabies is for
all intents and purposes 100% fatal (only a few cases, maybe 3 in all,
are known in which a victim survived after symptoms developed, and then
ONLY if treatment had been started) it's necessary for it to be passed
from one animal to the next to maintain a "pool" of it. In some
countries (the British Isles and a few other places) there is no
endemic rabies: vigorous programs to remove all possibly infected
animals from the wild reservoir, coupled with stringent laws on
importation of possible carriers have effectively wiped it out. In
places like the USA, where the possibility of completely removing it
from wild populations is not realizable, we rely on a rigorously
enforced program of innoculating pets. Not to protect THEM, but to
protect US. They carry it from the skunk they fought with, home to
Rabies is much less likely in some wild animals than others; rodents and
lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) have a much lower incidence than
carnivora, though ANY mammal can carry it. Dogs will start "shedding"
virus in their saliva about 5-7 days after it gains entry into their
system. The incubation period in dogs is typically 3 to 7 weeks,
depending on where the bite that infected them is located. It CAN
incubate for months to years, hence the British quarantine period of 6
months for dogs brought into the country.
Humans with rabies almost invariably present with a history of animal
bite: a hunter who tangles with a groundhog*, a kid nipped by a stray
dog, something of that nature. Pain appears at the site of the bite,
followed by parasthesias (burning, tickling, or numb sensations). The
skin becomes sensitive to temperature changes. Drinking causes spasms
of the larynx, hence the victim avoids drinking, and the term
"hydrophobia" (i.e., "fear of water") is another term for the disease.
The patient becomes restless and shows extreme excitability; muscle
spasms, laryngeal spasms, convulsions, and paralysis. Extreme
salivation ("foaming at the mouth") is also common. Once these symptoms
appear you are a goner. There is virtually no hope of recovery. Death
occurs usually within 7 days, from respiratory failure, due to
paralysis of the muscles needed for breathing.
Fun stuff, huh? That's why if you are EVER bitten by ANY mammal and
you can't be SURE it was not rabid (domestic animals are usually
quaratined and observed; wild ones are killed and the brain examined)
you MUST get the shots. Even if the possibility of infection is remote
it's a standard precaution. That attitude is one reason--the main
one--why rabies is such a rare disease here. In some countries where
there are lots of stray dogs and no vaccination program and not much in
the way of medical care available (I'm thinking of many places I've seen
in the Third World) rabies is much, much more common than it is here.
"Treatment" is palliative; try to make the victim comfortable till he
croaks. This is one case where I think human euthanasia has some
merit, rabies is one horrible way to die.
> When I was little rock throwing pest, (about 10 yrs old), I knocked a
> squirrel from out of a tree with a rock. The squirrel fell to the
> ground, stunned. When I picked him up he either bit or clawed me hard
> enough to inflict a wound (natuarally I then dropped him). Later a
> squirrel was shot from the same tree, I assured all the adults that
> this was the same squirrel. (Actually I wasn't too sure about that).
> Having heard all the horror stories about the shots, I was glad to
> find out that the shot squirrel tested negative for Rabies.
> Was this yet another childhood incident that, if not for pure dumb
> luck, might have taken me "off the board" at an early age?
It was luck, but it was also a situation where the odds were on your
side. Had the one that bitten you been rabid and you tested the wrong
squirrel you would have died; more likely you'd have had the shots. But
squirrels are very unlikely to be rabid (their lifestyle doesn't expose
them to many bites from rabid animals) and so even if you had kept your
mouth shut and never told anyone about the bite (most unwise) you would
statistically have been "safe." Had that been an unprovoked dog bite
you would have been in very real danger.
The old shots required a long series, given in the abdominal wall, and
excruciatingly painful. I know several people who have been thus
treated and most have said next time they'd opt for having rabies
instead. But the newer shots are much less intrusive, and much fewer
in number. Our veterinary students gripe about sore arms and fatique
following their shots but it's not anything like the old ones were
reported to be.
Incidentally, there was recently a paper published of a retrospective
case study of mysterious deaths, including that of "E.P." In reviewing
his case and symptoms, the conclusion was that he had died of rabies.
The man was the late poet Edgar Allen Poe, author of "The Raven" and
"The Telltale Heart."
Hope this is of interest. I have never seen a human rabies case, and
hope I never do. Very, very few physicians in this country ever will,
though veterinarians see them, of course. The information here is
distilled from "Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment" by L.M.
Tierney, S.J. McPhee, and M.A. Papadakis, published by Lange Medical
Publishing, pp. 1112-113. ISBN is 0-8385-1375-1 if you want to get a
The (Wily) Elitist
*Groundhogs are unlikely carriers but it happens. I've seen the
monthly rabies reports the VA Dept of Public Health puts out and there
have been a few cases of confirmed rabid groundhogs. They probably get
it by tangling with skunks who invade their burrows.
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 1997 11:08:48 -0400
From: The Elitist <elitist@BEV.NET>
Subject: Re: Rabies
Phil and Viki wrote:
> When small game hunting....or even Deer hunting, how do you know if the
> animal has rabies or not??? I am interested in hunting for squirrels and
> rabbits, how do I know the ones I shoot don't have rabies??
Rabies can be carried by any mammal (including possums, BTW) but the odds
of encountering a rabid squirrel or deer are so remote that it isn't
worth worrying about. Be leery of skunks, foxes, and raccoons; careful
arund other carnivores, but don't worry about herbivorous animals. Yes,
if a rabid fox bit a deer it would get rabies, but the deer would most
likely die long before you encounter it and it's not likely to bite
anyone else. As for squirrels, anything that can catch one usually can
kill and eat it, and the incidence of rabid squirrels has to be
near-zero. Ground hogs cometimes get rabies if they tangle with a skunk
that has invaded their burrow.
Bats are a major carrier, too. In general if the animal is behaving
oddly (i.e., a normally nocturnal animal out in the daytime) it might be
rabid. I shoot on sight any skunk or raccoon I see out in broad day on