Rabies is a viral disease that causes a very serious brain infection and inflammation. It is almost always fatal. The disease is transmitted to humans from other species, commonly by a bite or a scratch from an infected animal. Dog bites account for 95% of human rabies cases, which is why it is so important that everyone get their dogs properly vaccinated. It is also why having wild and unvaccinated “soi” dogs on the streets is an unacceptable threat to public health and safety. If we eliminate rabies in dogs, it becomes exceedingly rare in humans.
Rabies is nearly always fatal in humans if post exposure prophylaxis is not provided before the onset of symptoms. The virus travels to the brain by following the peripheral nerves beginning at the location of the bite. In humans, the time from infection to first symptoms can be from a few weeks to several months. It is very important that if you or your child is bitten or scratched by a dog or a cat you promptly seek medical care, especially when your child has not been vaccinated against rabies and the animals’ rabies vaccination status cannot be proven.
Once the rabies virus reaches the central nervous system and symptoms begin to show the infection is rarely treatable and usually fatal within days. Early-stage symptoms of rabies include headache and fever, progressing to acute pain, spasm, seizures, paralysis, depression and hydrophobia (fear of water). The patient may experience periods of mania and lethargy, eventually leading to coma and death. It is a horrible death.
Sadly, rabies kills about 55,000 people worldwide every year, mostly in Asia and Africa. Animal control and vaccination programs have effectively eliminated domestic dogs as reservoirs of rabies many countries. In countries with vaccination laws and proper enforcement like Australia, the United States, Japan, and Singapore, rabies carried by dogs and cats has been eliminated entirely.
About 400,000 people are bitten by dogs every year in Thailand and about 25-30 people die from rabies, most of them children. This is why I strongly encourage both kids and their parents to be vaccinated against rabies. If your child is unvaccinated and is bitten by a dog or cat you do not know and cannot confirm has been properly vaccinated against rabies, then they must immediately receive immunoglobulin antibodies injected into the bite wound, and a series of post-exposure vaccinations beginning on the day they were bitten and then on days 3, 7, 14 and 28. If your child has been vaccinated against rabies, then they will only require a single booster vaccination dose and no immunoglobulin injected into the bite wound.
My “take-home” messages to you are;
1) If you live in Thailand, get your child vaccinated against rabies,
2) While dogs and cats are wonderful and can be very important for the emotional development of your child, they must be properly vaccinated,
3) Talk to your local city authorities to have soi dogs removed from your neighborhood and support efforts by local charities to vaccinate soi dogs,
4) Seek medical care immediately if you or your child is bitten by a dog or cat.