Rabies is a viral disease of animals that can be transmitted to man by bite or scratch. If the virus penetrates to the human central nervous system, it will cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which is always fatal.
Initial symptoms are fever and a patient does not feel well, as with any viral infection. After two to three days the infected person begins to act foolish, and has strong spasms (cramps) in the throat and mouth which is amplified as soon as the patient sees the water ( “hydrophobia” means “fear of water”). Death is likely to occur after several days.
Incubation with rabies varies and lasts from two weeks to two years (usually one to two months). Fortunately, the disease is not spread easily. In fact, only 10% of people bitten by a rabid animal will get sick.
What to do?
Do not take any chances. If you are bitten or scratched by an animal that might be rabid (if it behaves aggressively and eventually foaming around the muzzle), immediately contact your doctor. An animal should be caught, if possible, but not killed. If it survives for more than 10 days, then it certainly is not rabid. In the meantime, you will probably be vaccinated several times against rabies to prevent the development of disease.