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What is rabies?

Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that infects nerves in warm-blooded animals. The disease affects the brain and causes a change in the behaviour of the animal, eventually causing death.

When an animal is infected with rabies, it could be a few days before any clinical signs or symptoms show, but they are still able to transmit the disease.

There are different strains of rabies. One vaccine protects against all strains. There are three strains presently in Ontario: "Arctic fox" (predominantly in foxes and skunks), raccoon strain, and a variety of bat strains.

Humans can be exposed to rabies once the virus moves from an infected animal through its saliva. Exposure can occur through:

  • biting
  • contact with the virus through an open cut, sore or wound
  • contact with the virus through mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes)

In humans, early symptoms may include numbness around the bite, fever, headache, and general malaise. Later symptoms may include muscle spasms and hydrophobia (fear of water).

In an adult, the average incubation period is three to eight weeks. However, clinical symptoms can appear as soon as two weeks after exposure or up to one year following exposure. Once symptoms appear, death is imminent.

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