All dog bites spread rabies
Pathogen and transmission
Rabies is an almost always fatal disease caused by the rabies virus. The virus can affect all mammals and be transmitted from them to humans. Important reservoir animals in Europe are foxes and bats, in tropical and subtropical countries especially dogs. The transmission to humans occurs through bite and scratch injuries of sick animals, or when their saliva gets on human mucous membranes (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth).
The time between infection and the outbreak of the disease varies greatly, but generally lasts between 20 and 60 days. The first stage of the disease is characterized by general malaise, headache, fever and itching as well as sensitivity to pain in the area of the bite or scratch wounds. In the acute stage, muscle twitching, hyperactivity, feelings of fear, as well as breathing and swallowing spasms occur. Later on, paralysis occurs and the patient finally falls into a coma. Rabies is practically always fatal as a result of paralysis of the respiratory center. Treatment is only possible before the first symptoms appear.
Distribution and frequency
Rabies occurs almost worldwide. Only a few countries in Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are rabies-free. Thanks to extensive campaigns with vaccination baits, rabies has been eradicated in foxes in Switzerland. However, it can rarely occur in bats or illegally imported animals (especially dogs). The last cases in native animals - with the exception of bats - were observed in 1996. Switzerland has been officially free from terrestrial rabies since 1999. In Western Europe, there have been several deaths in recent years among people who were infected while traveling to risk areas (Asia, Africa).
After being injured by a sick or unfamiliar animal in a risk area, the wound should be washed thoroughly with soap and a doctor should be consulted immediately. As long as no symptoms have appeared, vaccination can prevent the onset of the disease.
Preventive vaccination is recommended in Switzerland for veterinarians and their employees, exposed animal keepers and dealers, people who have come into contact with bats and people who work with rabies viruses in laboratories. When traveling in areas affected by rabies, vaccination is recommended if a certain travel style is chosen (e.g. backpackers, adventure trips to remote areas, cyclists and motorcyclists) and for longer stays.
You can obtain further information on the worldwide spread and prevention of the disease from your general practitioner or a specialist in travel medicine (see "Links" tab).
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