Rabies is a deadly viral infection that is spread by infected animal saliva. Most cases of rabies are the result of wild animal bites from raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and wolves. Still, approximately 7 percent of rabies cases occur from domestic animals, including cats and dogs. The risk of contracting rabies from a cat bite is minimal, but more reported cases of rabies in the United States involve cats than dogs. Cat bite wounds are especially susceptible to infection because of certain bacteria in the species’ saliva.
The rabies virus enters the body through broken skin or a puncture wound from an infected animal bite and travels to the brain, where it causes inflammation. If untreated, the cerebral swelling can lead to respiratory failure, coma and death. Once symptoms appear, a person rarely survives, even with proper treatment. Typically, death occurs within a week after symptoms present.
Every year, rabies kills approximately 55,000 people worldwide. “There have been just two or three documented cases ever of someone surviving rabies,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears says.
Treating rabies is all about prevention, which makes it imperative to see a doctor to start treatment within 48 hours of the incident. Doctors can screen for rabies with saliva and spinal fluid tests. In addition, an immunofluorescence hemoglobin test can analyze any antigens in the blood that prompt the immune system to mount a defense of antibodies. A series of pre-emptive vaccines are administered five times over the course of a month.