When we think of diseases that come to us from animals, rabies and AIDS are the most common ones that pop into our heads. Rabies is one of the most common viral zoonotic infections. Some of the widely known facts about rabies are that it makes you a slobbering, aggressive madman, it’s acquired by the bite of an infected dog and that it kills you.
All of these, though true, are not entirely accurate. First of all, rabies comes in 2 forms - the 'furious' form and the 'dumb' form. Both are characterized by changes in behaviour, but they result in radically different signs. The former is characterized by aggression and hyperirritability while the later makes the patient sullen, withdrawn and even shy. The over-the-top foaming at the mouth is due to the inability to swallow water and saliva when the virus paralyses the throat muscles. Next, it’s not just a dog bite that can transmit rabies. Cows, bats and even birds can suffer from rabies. The rabies virus is excreted in bodily fluids. The virus has a special liking for salivary glands, which means that it is secreted in relatively large quantities through saliva. It is the saliva that is infective, not the bite. Thus, even a lick over damaged skin can cause the infection.
The sad thing is that rabies has a 100% mortality rate - if you get it, you will die, sooner or later. However, it can be easily prevented. Rabies is one of the few diseases for which vaccination can be administered after the infection has been contracted. Following the standard post-exposure vaccination schedule can prevent the disease. More importantly, washing the area affected with soap can kill the virus; which means following basic hygienic precautions while handling animals can easily save lives.