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C2003-37

Dear Christopher Cat

While I was feeding some wild cats, one of them bit me. My physician started me on rabies injections, and I’m fine. I’d just like to know more about rabies.

Christopher Responds

Rabies can be transmitted long before the infected animal shows signs of the disease, so it must be considered any time someone is bitten, even if the biting animal appears normal.

When a cat (or other mammal) is bitten by a rabid animal, the rabies virus penetrates the nerves of the skin. It reproduces and moves along the nerves to the spinal cord and eventually up to the brain.

One battalion of the viral army advances along the nerves to the salivary glands, arriving in the saliva up to 13 days before another battalion assaults the brain.

Once the virus reaches the brain, behavioral and neurological changes are seen. For example, a normally shy wild animal might be friendly, or the rabid animal may be partially paralyzed, as though it had been hit by a car.

When the swallowing muscles are paralyzed and the animal is breathing heavily, saliva drooling from the mouth mixes with air and looks like foam.

Death occurs two to ten days after the virus invades the brain.

Early symptoms in humans may occur intermittently and include pain at the wound site, anxiety, headache and malaise. If these signs are ignored and the disease progresses, treatment is usually unsuccessful.

It’s important to address rabies immediately. Anytime you’re bitten, wash the wound with plenty of soap and water, and call your physician.

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