How Rabies Works

Rabies Symptoms in Humans

As mentioned previously, rabies is usually considered to be 100 percent fatal for both animals and people. Vaccinations are available both pre-emptively and immediately after exposure, but if nothing is done before the virus hits your central nervous system, you will almost certainly die. Only one person has survived the acute stage of rabies without vaccinations, and she's considered a "medical marvel" [source: Fox]. In other words, she was very, very lucky. In both developed nations and the Third World, untreated rabies is still considered a death sentence.

Rabies isn't a virus you want to mess around with. If you think you've been exposed to the disease, remember to seek medical treatment before symptoms show up, preferably within hours of the exposure taking place. Even if you're unsure, a few shots in the arm is better than death.

The symptoms of rabies in humans are somewhat different than those typically shown by animals. The disease is found in most places throughout the world, so regardless of whether you live in upstate New York or sub-Saharan Africa, it's not a bad idea to know what symptoms to look for.

Common rabies symptoms in humans are:

  • Stomach pains
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Increased aggression
  • Fever
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Hydrophobia
  • Excessive salivation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Sporadic pulse
  • Violent and painful muscle spasms
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Coma

As with animals, it's important to remember that the occurrence of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean an individual has rabies. There are many causes for a fever and cough, for example, and rabies usually isn't one of them. If someone avoids treatment and develops an intense fear of water after being attacked by a foaming dog, then it might be time to start worrying. But for those who seek prompt treatment after an exposure -- or never come near a rabid animal at all -- a fever is just a fever and a cough is just a cough.

However, if you or someone you know has been attacked by what you fear may be a rabid animal, thoroughly wash the wounds with soap and water. Then, contact your local animal control office. You will probably also want to contact your state or county health department for the proper procedure and guidelines for your area. If you are outside the U.S., wash the wound and try to get to a local hospital or emergency clinic for treatment and advice.