Medical Definition of Rabies

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

Rabies: A potentially fatal viral infection that attacks the central nervous system. Rabies is carried by wild animals (particularly bats and raccoons) and finds its way to humans by many routes. Most cases of rabies can be traced to animal bites, but cases have been documented in which the virus was inhaled in bat caves, contracted in lab accidents, or received from transplanted donor tissue. Symptoms include fever, aching muscles, and headache, potentially progressing to inflammation of the brain, confusion, seizures, paralysis, coma, and death. There is no cure for rabies after it has settled in the brain, so immediate emergency care for any suspicious animal contact is imperative. Rabies immunoglobulin shots, antibiotics, and rabies vaccine may be used immediately after contact with a suspected rabies carrier. To prevent rabies, pets should be vaccinated against the virus, and people should avoid contact with wild or unknown animals. A human rabies vaccine is available, but it is recommended only for those in high-risk occupations (such as game wardens, zookeepers, and animal control officers).

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018