According to the World Health Organization, nearly 55,000 people die from rabies infections every year. Most of those deaths occur in Asia and Africa, though rabies infections have been reported in 155 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. The WHO also reports that millions of people each year receive vaccinations after dog bites, preventing hundreds of thousands more deaths. Most rabies infections worldwide result from dog bites. The symptoms of rabies are distinctive and can arise within days or weeks of being bitten.
Regardless of the form of rabies that eventually develops, the initial symptoms of infection are the same. These include fever, fatigue, headache, increasing pain at the site of the bite, or unexplained tingling, prickling and burning at the site of the bite. From here, the virus responsible for rabies spreads through the central nervous system and gives rise to one of two forms of the disease: furious or paralytic rabies.
Furious rabies is the more common form of rabies infection. Symptoms that arise from furious rabies include hyperactivity, hallucinations, insomnia, thirst, trouble swallowing, and even panic when presented with something to drink. Within a few days, death results when the heart and lungs shut down.
According to the WHO, paralytic rabies accounts for about 30 percent of all rabies infections in humans. Equally fatal, the paralytic form of rabies takes longer to develop. Muscles become paralyzed first at the site of the bite and paralysis then progresses throughout the body. Finally, the victim falls into a coma and eventually dies.
Once Symptoms Arise
The Centers for Disease Control warns that once clinical signs of rabies appear, the infection is almost always fatal. Any person bitten by a dog -- or another potential rabies carrier, such as bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, opossums, coyotes and rodents -- should immediately contact his health care provider, and try to have the animal detained for rabies testing. If the animal is unavailable for testing or is found to be positive for rabies, the bite victim should undergo immediate vaccination to prevent the development of the disease. The WHO emphasizes that no diagnostic test exists that can detect rabies in a bite victim before symptoms develop.