How is rabies treated?

When a person is exposed to rabies, timely administration of a vaccine known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can prevent infection. Once a person becomes infected and symptoms begin to occur, rabies is almost always fatal.

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You must get rabies treatment very soon after you are exposed, before deadly symptoms appear. If you have never been vaccinated for rabies, you will have to have a series of shots over several days to prevent rabies. Immediately, you will get a shot of rabies antibodies, called rabies immune globulin, and a shot of rabies vaccine, which will encourage your body to produce its own antibodies. Then, you will get several more shots of rabies vaccine over the next few weeks. Shots are usually given in the arm. If you have been vaccinated for rabies before, you won't need the immune globulin, just two shots of vaccine.

Once rabies symptoms start, there is no treatment. The disease is almost always fatal.

Brad J. Spellberg, MD
Infectious Disease
Rabies is treated by prevention. After a possible exposure, which in the US generally relates to an unprovoked attack by a wild animal or any exposure to bats, rabies immune globulin must be injected around the wound and intramuscularly to prevent onset of infection.  There is no accepted treatment for infection that has already begun causing symptoms.  There is now a report of 1 patient who survived active infection after many months of experimental therapies of a variety of types.  Bottom line, you don't want rabies.  The key is prevention.

Continue Learning about Rabies

Rabies

Rabies

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that can affect the nervous system of any mammal, including humans. Rabies-infected animals typically spread the disease through their saliva. It can be transmitted to humans when they bite a ...

person, or when the saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with a person's mouth, eyes, nose or a fresh wound. Signs of rabies in animals may include excessive saliva or sometimes foaming at the mouth, paralysis or behavioral changes in a pet (shyness when the pet used to be friendly). Rabies is nearly always fatal unless treated. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to rabies, get immediate medical treatment. Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) shots can kill the virus if given before symptoms start -- which may be anywhere from 10 days to over a year after the virus enters your body.
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