Although a rabies infection in humans is rare—only one American adult developed it in 2007—it is still a huge threat, especially in sparsely populated areas with a strong wild animal population. According to About.com, most rabies infections are caused by racoons, followed by bats, skunks, and wild foxes.
Rabies is not a laughing matter, especially when it infects humans. The human mortality rate is high for untreated rabies infections, caused by complications of the infection. Rabies affects the nerves inside the human body, leading to psychotic-like effects.
How It Spreads to Humans
Rabies commonly spreads through forced contact, such as a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Sometimes it also spreads through forced but non-penetrative contact, such as petting a wild animal when the person has an open sore or cut.
Unlike other infections, the symptoms are not immediate. It can take days, weeks, or even months before symptoms develop in humans. The symptoms also start out slowly, mimicking other illnesses such as the flu or the common cold.
Because of its ability to mimic other illnesses, early detection and awareness is extremely important—it can be deadly if left untreated. Humans who have recently come into contact with wild animals, especially racoons or bats, should watch out for these symptoms, especially in the weeks following forced contact with wild animals.
Symptoms of Rabies in Humans
If one or more of these symptoms occur for more than two to three days, seek medical help immediately. Do not wait it out in hopes it will disappear—in nearly all cases it worsens, causing severe, some irreversible complications.
Symptom #1: A fever, headache, or feeling generally ill. This typically occurs a couple of days after the initial bite, which may mimic the symptoms of the flu. Rabies infections in humans commonly start out like most infections, causing a headache and general illness (malaise).
Symptom #2: Tingling or numbness around or in the infected area. This indicates the infection is progressing. The area may also feel warm or look inflamed.
Symptom #3: Anxiety, confusion, or hallucinations. As the infection progresses in humans, it affects the neurological processes in the body, causing people to feel anxious, confused, agitated, or see things that are not there. They may also see objects or people that do not actually exist. The hallucinations can also cause paranoia or mild psychosis.
Symptom #4: Insomnia or other sleeping problems. In humans, the rabies infections affects the brain and its nerves, which also affects the area of the brain responsible for sleep. This causes numerous sleeping problems in humans, the most common being insomnia. The person may find it difficult to sleep without using sleep medications.
What to Do If a Rabies Infection is Suspected
Do these symptoms sound familiar? If one or more of these symptoms occur, it’s time to act fast. Seek medical help immediately. The infection can worsen if no attempt is made to sanitize or treat the wound. Medical staff can help clean and sanitize the infection, bandage it, and use vaccinations to fight off the human rabies infection. Rarely does anybody survive infection without treatment.