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Understanding Rabies- Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Home > Blogs > Understanding Rabies- Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Understanding Rabies- Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Critical Care Medicine | by Dr. Anirban Chattopadhyay | Published on 20/10/2023


If you are someone scared of the word rabies, well, you aren’t the only one. Many people fear the word rabies as it is a contagious illness that has plagued humans and animals for decades. In this blog, we will elaborate on rabies and comprehend its enigmatic nature. We will dig deeper into the discussion of its transmission, symptoms, causes, and prevention to fight against the dangerous disease. 

If you find out that you have rabies and are looking for treatment, book your appointment with The Calcutta Medical Research Institute, one of the renowned hospitals in Kolkata. You will find the most experienced and highly talented medical professionals here. 

This blog is for informative purposes and doesn’t interfere with the healthcare professional consultation. 

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral and contagious illness affecting the mammal nervous system including humans. It is primarily transferred through an infected animal salvia, usually through scratches and bites. If rabies is ignored and doesn’t receive the treatment on time, it can be very dangerous. Aggression is one of the signs to be noticed if someone is suffering from this disease. Some vaccinations can help in preventing rabies and prompt clinical attention is important if someone comes across a probable rabies animal.

What are Rabies Symptoms?

It is vital to comprehend that rabies symptoms can develop in stages and usually involve: 

  • Prodromal stage- It usually starts with signs like the flu such as fever, weakness, headache, and discomfort where the animal has scratched or bitten. 
  • Furious stage- In this phase, the patient experiences agitation, anxiousness, hallucinations, hydrophobia, etc. It develops signs like aggressive behavior.
  • Paralytic stage- In this final stage, the patient experiences weakness in the muscles and paralysis causing problems while swallowing and breathing. In this stage, death often happens because of respiratory failure. 

One must know that after the symptoms appear, rabies becomes fatal. Hence, prompt clinical attention is required if the person is bitten or scratched by an animal carrying the virus. However, vaccination before the symptoms appear, then it can help in averting the illness.

What are Rabies Causes?

One of the primary causes behind rabies is primarily the transmission to humans through the infected animal's saliva. It mainly happens when an animal bites or scratches a person. The virus impacts the nervous system and can be hazardous if it is left untreated. Rabies often infects mammals such as raccoons, bats, dogs, etc. People who are exposed to rabies must get a vaccination to prevent fatal risks. 

Here is the list of pets and farm animals that can spread rabies to humans: 

  • Ferrets 
  • Goats 
  • Horses 
  • Dogs 
  • Cats
  • Cows 

Here is another list of wild animals that can spread rabies virus:

  • Coyotes 
  • Bats
  • Raccoons 
  • Woodchucks 
  • Skunks 
  • Beavers
  • Monkeys 
  • Foxes 

What are Rabies Risk Factors? 

Here are some of the rabies risk factors that can enhance the risk of this illness:

  • If someone lives in a developing nation or travels where rabies is not uncommon 
  • Actions that can put an individual in contact with wild animals infected from rabies like cave exploration where bats live or camping without any precautionary measures. 
  • An individual who is a veterinarian
  • People who have to work in labs with rabies virus 
  • Head or neck bruises might assist the virus in moving to the brain fast

How is Rabies Diagnosed?

Firstly, it is vital to understand that no way is there to determine if the animal has transferred the virus to a person when an infected animal has bitten someone. According to healthcare experts, sometimes it is common that bite marks are not found. To diagnose rabies, the doctor usually orders several tests to determine the infection. In some cases, there might be a need for repetitive tests to confirm if a person is carrying the virus. The doctor might also recommend to consider treatment options at the earliest to avert the virus so that it doesn’t infect the body if there is a probability of being exposed to the infection. 

What are the options for Rabies Treatment?

There is no useful treatment if a rabies infection is established. However, some people might survive rabies, but usually, it leads to death. So, people who suspect that they are exposed to the infection should get several shots to prevent the infection from taking control. 

If someone has been bitten by an infected animal, the doctor will recommend shots so that it doesn’t infect the person. In cases, when an infected animal isn’t found, then doctors usually presume that the animal has rabies as it is the safest option. But then again it depends on various factors like animal type and the kind of situation in which it happened. 

Here are a series of shots recommended for rabies treatment:

  • Rabies immune globin- It is among the fast-acting shots that help in preventing the virus from infecting a person. It is usually recommended when someone hasn’t had the rabies vaccine. It is often given after the bite and near the area where an infected animal has bitten the person. 
  • A number of rabies vaccinations assist the body in learning the fighting mechanism against rabies. Four injections are given within a period of fourteen days when someone didn’t receive rabies vaccine. 

Other treatment options

Here are other treatment options for rabies often recommended:

  • Post-exposure prophylaxis- If a person is bitten or scratched by an infected animal, it is vital to consider PEP at the earliest. It mainly involves wound care, rabies immune globulin, rabies vaccine, and vaccine schedule. 
  • Supportive care- When a person is diagnosed with rabies even before the symptoms emerge, no particular treatment is there to cure the illness. Supportive care is given to help manage pain and prevent serious complications like pneumonia. 
  • Sedation and palliative care- As rabies develops and symptoms show up, sedation and palliative care are usually involved so that the patient doesn’t feel discomfort. Patients with rabies usually experience serious neuro symptoms like aggression, hallucinations, agitation, etc.

Are there any prevention tips for rabies?

Yes, here are some tips that can help you reduce the risk of getting infected with rabies:

  • If you have pets like cats, dogs, or ferrets, make sure they are rabies vaccinated 
  • Always ensure to supervise your pets when they are outside or try keeping them indoors
  • Make sure to protect your pets from predators 
  • If stray animals are nearby you, report them to local authorities
  • Try not to approach wild animals 
  • Make sure you are rabies vaccinated when traveling to developing countries as they are exposed to rabies 


Rabies is one of the fatal viral illnesses posing a substantial menace to both humans and animals. Once an individual is infected with rabies through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, prevention and immediate treatment become serious when symptoms show up. Rabies can be prevented through pet vaccination and wildlife management. 

Post-exposure prophylaxis is highly effective for people who are rabies-infected. However, it is also effective when the virus is administered on time. Even after continuous advancement in the medical field, rabies remains a universal health problem, specifically in areas with restricted healthcare access and fewer resources for animal control.



How long anti-rabies vaccine effective in humans?

Two doses of rabies vaccine are effective in humans for three years. 

How is rabies spread?

Rabies is spread by coming into contact with an infected animal’s saliva. 

Can rabies be cured?

No cure is available for rabies, however, it can be managed and treated if symptoms don’t show up or when the virus is identified on time.