By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
A suspected case of rabies should be treated as soon as possible, even if there aren’t any signs or symptoms of the disease yet. Shortly after suspected exposure to the rabies virus, patients should be vaccinated prophylactically to prevent the virus from infected the individual.
There is currently no known cure for the disease if the patient is already experiencing symptoms. Therefore, the aim of treatment for a symptomatic patient is to prolong lifespan and keep the individual as comfortable as possible.
These two treatments depending on the progression of the disease clearly differ significantly and are covered in more detail below.
Post-Exposure Prophylactic Treatment
Exposure to the rabies virus most commonly occurs via a bite from an animal that is infected. Shortly after the incident, it is important to perform prophylactic treatment to prevent the virus from infecting the patient and causing the disease to progress.
Initially, the physical wound should be cleaned appropriately, which involves:
- A simple wash with water
- Cleaning of wound with antiseptic, alcohol or iodine
- A simple dressing without the use of stitches
Avoiding stitches when dressing the wound is important as stiches increase the likelihood of the virus from entering the nervous system and infecting the rest of the body.
It is also possible for the rabies virus to be transmitted by other means than an animal bite, such as from animal saliva into the eye of an individual. If this occurs, the eye should be washed thoroughly with water and the rest of the process should continue to be followed as usual.
The next step in prophylactic treatment is for a medical profession to administer timely injections of rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine.
Rabies immunoglobulin is a preparation of antibodies that help to prevent the rabies virus from reaching your nervous system. They provide an immediate effect to neutralize the virus and inhibit spread throughout the human body. Whilst it may cause some irritation at the site of the action, it has a good side effect profile in most cases.
Regardless of if someone has been vaccinated against rabies, every patient that is suspected to have come into contact with the rabies virus should be given a course of rabies vaccine as a precautionary method. However, those patients already vaccinated only need two of the usual five vaccinations. In the standard case, the five injections are administered on:
- Day 1 of treatment
- Day 3 of treatment
- Day 7 of treatment
- Day 14 of treatment
- Day 30 of treatment
Some patients may notice redness, swelling or pain at the site of injection, usually a day or two after administration.
If the rabies virus has been transmitted to someone and appropriate medical attention was not sought in a timely manner, the individual may experience symptoms such as hyperactivity and fear of water or air.
Unfortunately, at this point in time there is no known cure for rabies that has established to the point that symptoms are evident. As result, symptomatic treatment has a strong focus on increasing quality of life by keeping patients comfortable.
Tranquilizers and sedatives are often used to minimize physical pain, as well as the emotional turmoil a diagnosis with rabies can present.
Last Updated: Apr 28, 2015