Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus. You can get rabies if you are bitten or scratched by an animal with rabies. In the United States, rabies is mostly found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. However, in many other countries around the world, bites from dogs (including puppies) are the main source of rabies infections in people. Most people who die of rabies were bitten by a dog with rabies.
Rabies affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Without appropriate medical care, rabies causes brain disease and death. Once symptoms of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal. For this reason, preventing animal bites and receiving prompt medical care is especially important.
Early rabies symptoms include weakness or discomfort, fever, and headache. There may be discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the place of the bite. Within days, an infected person may become anxious, confused, and agitated. As a person gets sicker, they may become delirious, hallucinate, be unable to sleep, and unable to swallow or quench their thirst.
Rabies is carried by warm-blooded animals (mammals) and collects in their saliva (spit). You usually get rabies through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies is most commonly found in bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes, but other animals — including your pet dog or cat — can become infected. If a break in your skin comes in contact with the spit of an infected animal, you could get rabies. Rarely, people have gotten rabies from receiving donated organs.
Rabies is spread through the saliva of an infected animal (particularly dogs, cats, monkeys and bats) via a bite, scratch or lick of mucous membranes or broken skin. There is no specific treatment available for rabies once symptoms develop and those that develop symptoms will die. Children can be more likely than adults to be exposed to rabies. Natural curiosity and exploration may entice them to approach animals; fear of being chastised may make them conceal an exposure.
It is important that children are aware of the need to avoid animal contact during travel and equally the importance of reporting any exposure that does occur.
Pre-travel rabies vaccination should be considered for children travelling to countries that are considered high risk for rabies.
As parents, ensuring the safety and well-being of our children is our top priority. Recent tragic incidents, such as the untimely death of 14-year-old Sabez from Ghaziabad due to rabies after being bitten by a dog, have raised concerns among parents about how to safeguard their children from dog bites and the potential risk of rabies. In this article, we will explore the steps parents can take to protect their children from dog bites and emphasize the importance of immediate action in case of a dog bite, with insights from Dr. Rajiv Chhabra, Chief, Paediatric, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon.
Rabies is a deadly viral infection that is virtually 100% fatal once clinical symptoms appear. It is a global concern, present on all continents except Antarctica, with over 95% of human deaths occurring in Asia and Africa. Alarmingly, children between the ages of 5 and 14 are the most frequent victims of rabies. Therefore, it is imperative for parents to be well-informed and take proactive measures to protect their children.
If someone is bitten by a dog, immediate action is crucial. Following these steps can significantly reduce the risk of infection:
- Wash the Wound: Immediately clean the wound with soap and warm water for at least 5 minutes to minimize the risk of infection.
- Apply an Antiseptic: Applying an antiseptic solution to the wound can further reduce the risk of infection.
- Stop Bleeding: If the wound is bleeding, gently apply pressure with a clean cloth to stop the bleeding.
- Seek Medical Attention: Regardless of how minor the bite may seem, seek medical attention promptly. A doctor will assess the wound and determine if a tetanus shot is necessary.
- Report the Bite: If the dog’s vaccination status is uncertain, report the bite to nearby animal control authorities.
Dr. Rajiv Chhabra advises that in cases of potential rabies exposure, it is crucial to get vaccinated immediately after the incident. The rabies vaccine consists of a series of shots given over a 14-day period, and completing this series is essential for effective protection. Dr. Chhabra emphasizes the importance of early intervention through post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) with rabies immune globulin and rabies vaccine to prevent the virus from progressing.
Like any vaccine, the rabies vaccine may have mild side effects, which can include pain or swelling at the injection site. We recommends consulting a healthcare professional if these side effects significantly impact daily activities. Timely guidance on rabies vaccination and treatment after potential exposure to rabies is vital in preventing this deadly disease.
Preventing Dog Bites in Children
While it is crucial to know how to respond to a dog bite, prevention is equally important. Parents can take proactive steps to protect their children from dog bites by:
- Supervising Interactions: Regularly supervise interactions between children and dogs to ensure safe play and prevent potential conflicts.
- Teaching Respect: Teach children to respect a dog’s boundaries and personal space, emphasizing the importance of gentle petting.
- Educating About Warning Signs: Educate children about early warning signs of stress or aggression in dogs, such as growling or baring teeth, and to back away if they observe these signs.
- Seeking Permission: Instruct children to seek permission from dog owners before petting or approaching a dog.
- Avoiding Teasing: Emphasize the importance of not teasing or taunting dogs, as this can lead to aggressive behaviour.
- Respecting Privacy: Encourage children to respect a dog’s privacy during meals, sleep, or when tending to their young.
If you have pet dogs at home, we advise you to keep children in a separate area from the dogs and establishing clear boundaries. In households with young children, consider dividing the house into zones to ensure the safety of both children and dogs. Additionally, ensure that both your child and your pet dog are well-vaccinated.
Protecting children from dog bites and the risk of rabies is a shared responsibility of parents and the community. By following the steps outlined in this article and being vigilant in supervising interactions between children and dogs, parents can significantly reduce the risk of dog bites. Furthermore, immediate action, including seeking medical attention and getting vaccinated after a dog bite, is crucial in preventing the potentially fatal consequences of rabies.