Remember: The best way to prevent the spread of rabies is the vaccination of house pets and people.
Humans are mammals. Therefore, theoretically, human-to-human rabies transmission is possible. However, there are no laboratory-tested cases to confirm that this has actually happened. But there have been 8 confirmed cases of death due to human-to-human rabies transmissions resulting from cornea transplants. Because these deaths were medically confirmed, there are now improved guidelines to screen organ donors for the rabies virus. **
Of the 32 human rabies cases reported between 1990 and 2000, 24 were caused by contact with bats, making bats a major concern when it comes to rabies and humans. Because bat teeth are small, bite marks are small as well. And bat bites don't hurt as much as a bite from other, bigger animals, so they have been known to go undetected.
In fact, sometimes bat bites don't hurt at all, which is why people have been bitten and infected while sleeping, without ever feeling a thing. So, like Dracula, bats have crept up on sleeping people, bitten them, and flown off.**
More bat info
The Old Cure VS the New
Years ago the idea of getting vaccinated against rabies was nearly as frightening as rabies' deadly symptoms, because it required a series of very painful injections in the stomach. Thankfully, modern science has improved the vaccine, so it is not as uncomfortable to receive and no one gets an injection in the stomach.
Rabies Info and Prevention
Rabies is a preventable viral disease that causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The virus exists in the saliva of mammals and is transmitted from animal to animal or from animal to human by biting and/or scratching. The virus can also be spread by licking, when infected saliva makes contact with open cuts or wounds, and with the mouth, eyes, and nose. If left untreated in humans and animals, rabies is fatal. Therefore, to survive rabies exposure it is necessary to complete a rabies treatment under the supervision of a medical professional.
Thanks to pet owners across the United States complying with animal vaccination requirements, immunization has helped control the spread of rabies and has kept the general human and pet population relatively rabies-free. And, because of the rabies vaccine, as long as your pets are up-to-date on their shots, even if they come across a rabid animal in the backyard or in a park, they have an excellent chance of survival with the help of a veterinarian's care. To protect humans, there is a rabies vaccine for humans and an immune globulin (a protein that comes from the blood of a person or animal that has developed a resistance to rabies); both work to protect humans from the rabies virus. However, timing, as well as medication, is important to rabies prevention. For example, if you are a person who is planning to work in or travel to an environment where rabies is a risk, you should get vaccinated before you enter that environment; that's pre- exposure vaccination. And all those who have been exposed to rabies, whether or not they have had pre-exposure vaccination, absolutely must have post-exposure treatment as soon as possible.
Remember: Pre-exposure vaccination is for people who, because of their jobs or travel destinations, are in danger of being exposed to the rabies virus.
Post-exposure treatment is necessary for everyone who even suspects that he or she has come in contact with a rabid animal, whether he or she had pre-exposure vaccination or not.
Rabies and the Writer
A while ago an article was published investigating the illness and death of a writer who died in the 1800s. The writer was Edgar Allan Poe.
In late September 1849, Edgar Allan Poe traveled from Richmond, Virginia, to Baltimore, Maryland, where he disappeared for a few days, only to turn up unconscious under the steps of the Baltimore Museum. Brought to the hospital, he experienced some classic rabies symptoms: difficulty drinking water, hallucinations, trembling, and delirium. He died four days later. Although he was never tested for rabies during the time of his illness and death, a modern-day cardiologist believes that the documentation of Poe's death points to rabies as the cause. How did he get rabies? Edgar Allan Poe loved pets, especially cats. However, Poe lived during a time when animal vaccination against rabies was not available. Did someone's pet cat cause Edgar Allan Poe's death? We'll never know for sure. But because of improved rabies education and pet vaccination, today's pet owners can be confident about rabies prevention; when it comes to considering a death like Edgar Allan Poe's, they can say, "Nevermore."***
**Source: MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1999:48(RR-1);1-21
***Source: Benitez, RM. Case records of the University of Maryland and Baltimore VA Medical Centers; Md Med J. 1996:45;765-769.