If no preventative methods have been taken, Rabies is fatal. Today there are approximately 50,000 deaths due to rabies per year worldwide. The disease is most-commonly present is developing countries; 99% of the cases have been recorded in Asia, Africa, South America, with the highest number of cases in India. There haven't been any cases of Rabies originating in the UK for over a century; those who have caught it have picked it up abroad, although bat handlers, even in the UK, should receive a vaccine before starting the job and should seek medical advice if bitten.
How Rabies is caught and who is at risk
Rabies is caught through animal saliva and is contracted to humans through bites. Animals to watch out for are most commonly dogs, but also cats, bats and monkeys. Rabies is not contagious from human to human. People travelling to developing countries are at risk, especially those embarking on conservation projects (common if taking a gap-year or sabbatical) and people who work closely with animals (quarantine dog kennels and bat-handlers, even in the UK).
Rabies attacks the central nervous system and manifests itself as anxiety, headaches, fever and spasms of the swallowing muscles making it impossible to drink anything, as well as causing respiratory failures. Often even with the vaccine, people survive but are left scarred by a severe disability.
How to protect yourselves from catching Rabies
First and foremost, vaccinations do not prevent rabies but do give you more time to seek medical advice which is why the vaccination is vital. Before heading off travelling, ask your doctor to refer you for a rabies vaccine-this must be done AT LEAST a month before leaving. Every two to three years there is a top-up booster that should be administered to you if you are a regular traveller or will be heading to a developing country.
The most obvious way of avoiding rabies is by staying away from animals altogether, especially if stray and unattended. In the case of a bite, wash the wound immediately with soap and lots of water and seek medical advice as soon as possible. If you haven't sought medical advice whilst abroad, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible upon your return to the UK as some symptoms may take longer to manifest themselves.
For more information you can visit the Health Protection Agency www.hpa.org.uk, or www.masta.org.