Rabies - Bulletin - Europe

Rabies Information System of the WHO

What is rabies?


Rabies (Lyssa) is one of the oldest known zoonotic diseases; an animal disease transmissible to humans. It is caused by Lyssaviruses of the family Rhabdoviridae and can affect all mammals including humans. Transmission occurs through exposure to infectious saliva, i.e. bites, scratches, broken skin. The incubation period ranges in general between 2 and 3 month (2 weeks to 6 years are reported) depending on the site of infliction, the amount of virus and the virus strain. Rabies is widely distributed across the globe. More than 55 000 people die of rabies each year. About 95% of human deaths occur in Asia and Africa. Most human deaths follow a bite from an infected dog. Between 30% to 60% of the victims of dog bites are children under the age of 15. (See epidemiology) Due to its neurotropism all known lyssaviruses cause severe neurological symptoms (see clinical signs). Once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is inevitably fatal to both animals and humans. However, rabies is preventable - wound cleansing and immunizations, done as soon as possible after suspect contact with an animal and following WHO recommendations can prevent the onset of rabies in virtually all exposures. Globally, the most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people is by eliminating rabies in dogs and wildlife animals through animal vaccinations. (See control)



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