Rabies is a disease of viral origin that affects both wild and domestic animals. It is transmitted to humans by infected animals, occurring in more than 150 countries and territories. Once clinical symptoms appear, it is always fatal. In developing countries, where it is transmitted mainly by rabid stray dogs, rabies is still considered a major public health concern and continues to cause tens of thousands deaths each year (1). Four out of every ten deaths due to rabies are in children younger than 15 years old (2).
Women giving food for hungry street dogs - © GettyImagesWomen giving food for hungry street dogs - © GettyImages

Did You Know?

To date, vaccination remains the only effective treatment against rabies and acts by neutralizing the virus before it actually reaches the central nervous system

Rabies is usually transmitted through a rabid animal’s saliva by a bite, scratch, or licking of damaged skin or mucosa.

An average of 60,000 people die from rabies annually, and more than 15 million people receive post-exposure treatment every year.

Symptoms and Treatment

  • Following infection, the virus replicates within muscle cells surrounding the wound. It then reaches the central nervous system and eventually spreads through the entire body.
  • The mean incubation period is one to three months, but may range from one week to one year 1.
  • The first signs of the disease include pain or an abnormal sensation at or around the wound, followed by other non-specific symptoms such as fever, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, headaches, malaise, and lethargy.
  • In the acute stage, rabies symptoms mimic encephalitis. The disease may evolve as one of two clinical forms: furious rabies or paralytic (dumb) rabies. In both cases, the outcome is coma followed by death within a few days.


  1. WHO. Rabies Fact sheet. Revised September 2017, accessed January 2018.
  2. WHO. Human Rabies. Rabies. Accessed February 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/rabies