• What are rabies symptoms in humans? The first symptoms are usually non-specific flu-like signs, such as generalized weakness, fever or headache, which may last for several days. If the exposure occurred through a bite, discomfort or numbness may occur at the site. Within days or weeks, symptoms of brain dysfunction follow, such as anxiety, confusion and agitation, which progress to delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations and insomnia.
• What do you do if you are exposed to rabies? For a bite, scratch or exposure to saliva through an existing wound, cleanse the wound with soap and water, seek medical attention and notify animal control and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. A person exposed to saliva through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth should flush that area with water, seek medical attention and notify animal control and DHEC.
• How do I protect my pet against rabies? Only mammals can get rabies -- birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians do not. By law, dogs and cats must be vaccinated against rabies -- they can be vaccinated at 12 weeks and yearly after that. A three-year vaccine is available, and can be given a year after a dog or cat has an initial year-dose vaccine.
• What do I do if my pet is bitten by a wild animal or other animal that might have rabies? If a vaccinated pet is bitten by an animal suspected to have rabies, it must be evaluated by a veterinarian and revaccinated. Report the incident to animal control and DHEC. If an unvaccinated pet is bitten, have it evaluated immediately by a veterinarian. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that unvaccinated pets bitten by an animal suspected to have rabies be euthanized. If the owner is unwilling, the CDC recommends isolating the pet for six months and vaccinating it a month before release.
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• What are the signs of rabies in pets? During the incubation period, a pet may not show signs of the disease for days, weeks or months. A bite by the animal during the incubation period will not transmit rabies because the virus is not yet in the saliva. Only late in the disease, after the virus has reached the brain and moves to the salivary glands does the virus infect the saliva. Most animals begin to show the first signs of rabies when the virus reaches the brain. Some dogs and most cats develop "furious" rabies, characterized by hiding in dark places, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, staggering, agitation, viciousness and roaming, followed by paralysis and death. Some dogs may have a form called "dumb" rabies, in which the animal has a dropped jaw, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, progressive paralysis and death. The test to confirm rabies requires brain tissue from the animal suspected of being rabid, so it can only be performed after the animal dies or is euthanized.
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, World Health Organization and the American Veterinary Medical Association.