rabies hīˌdrəfōˈbēə [key], acute viral infection of the central nervous system in dogs, bats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and other animals, and in humans. The virus is transmitted from an animal to a person, or from one animal to another, via infected saliva, most often by biting but also by the contact of torn skin with infected saliva. The virus travels from the bite or contact location to the spinal cord and brain. In humans the incubation period ranges from 10 days to a year or more. Symptoms are fever, uncontrollable excitement, and pronounced spasms of the throat muscles. Salivation is extreme, and despite great thirst the victim cannot swallow water; hence the misnomer hydrophobia (fear of water). Once symptoms develop, death (caused by convulsions, exhaustion, or paralysis) is usually inevitable.

Following a bite from a rabid or possibly rabid animal, preventive treatment involves administration of immune globulin for passive immunization followed by vaccinations over several weeks for active immunization. The only treatment after symptoms appear is rest and sedation. Dogs have been immunized from the time Louis Pasteur demonstrated a successful vaccine in 1885. Since then, human rabies has become rare in the United States and other industrialized countries due to comprehensive vaccination programs for domestic animals. In the United States contact with a bat has been the most common cause of the rare rabies cases since the 1980s, but globally dogs remain the most common cause of the disease in humans. Mass vaccination of susceptible animals in the wild with vaccine-laced bait has been used in an effort to control the spread of rabies in the United States and Canada since the late 1980s. A similar wild animal vaccination program has been used with some success in parts of Europe.

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