Blog # 131

Who Knew? A rabies infection can cause sustained erections, and at times, uncontrollable ejaculations.  Still not a good enough reason to go into a cave and get bitten by a rabid bat!

Rabies is a deadly viral infection transmitted by infected mammals to humans and other mammals. The infection is spread by infected saliva that enters the body via a bite or broken skin.  The virus travels to the central nervous system and infects and inflames the brain and spinal cord, giving rise to symptoms that may include the following: pain at the bite site; fever; drooling; convulsions; excitability and restlessness; sensory symptoms including tingling, burning and pricking; muscle spasms; muscle paralysis; and trouble swallowing.  Once symptoms appear, death is virtually inevitable, usually by respiratory failure.  The key to avoiding a rabies infection and dying after a bite from a rabid animal is wound cleansing and flushing and immunization ASAP after contact.  This involves a series of preventive vaccines, generally 5 doses given over 28 days, as well as an immediate injection of human rabies immunoglobulin.

The minor annoyance of having to get our beloved pets vaccinated against rabies has actually produced one of the most significant public health victories. Vaccinations are not done primarily to protect our pets—although they most certainly do safeguard them—but to protect our human brethren.  Regular vaccination results in a defense that keeps all of us safe from rabies infections.  Because of the fact that dogs, cats and pet ferrets are now routinely vaccinated, human rabies infections in developed countries are now extremely rare, and bats are currently the source of most human rabies deaths in developed countries.  However, in the rest of the world, more than 50,000 people die annually of rabies. Most of these deaths occur in the continents of Asia and Africa and generally involve children who are bitten by rabid dogs, the source of the vast majority of human rabies deaths in third world nations.

Animal rabies infections are most often a problem of wild animals including not only bats but also raccoons, skunks and foxes.  When an animal is infected with the virus, it causes a profound change in their behavior, ranging the gamut between aggressive and tame.  Many afflicted animals make unusual sounds and may stagger, convulse and froth at the mouth, with death occurring within one week or so.

BOTTOM LINE: To minimize your risk of acquiring a rabies infection:

  • Stay away from wild animals
  • Keep your cats, dogs and pet ferrets vaccinated and indoors at night
  • Avoid attracting wild animals to your home via uncapped trash, bird seed, food left outside, etc.; keep chimney capped with a screen
  • If you are bitten by a wild animal or a domesticated one that appears to be behaving strangely, wash and flush the wound thoroughly and seek medical help immediately

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Facebook Page: Our Greatest Wealth Is Health

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Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition–on sale week of Cyber Monday for $2.99

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in January 2014.

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