Rabies - the forgotten disease

Rabies is a worldwide problem. Every year about 60, 000 people die of this virus disease. Since 2008, Germany is considered free of rabies, the last infected fox was sighted in 2006. In the fight against rabies, especially oral vaccination in wild animals proved to be successful. When traveling abroad, however, it is advisable to take into account the rabies distribution there and, if necessary, to carry out the necessary vaccinations.

Transmission of rabies by the saliva

The rabies virus is transmitted via the saliva of infected animals. Not even the notorious bite of the rabid animal is needed. The smallest injuries of the skin reach the virus as a portal of entry into the body. There, the pathogen multiplies and finally attacks the nervous system.

There is no cure for the disease. It is true that not all infected people get sick. But everyone who falls ill has to die. It is estimated that between 20 and 50 percent of the people who catch the virus also get it. The treachery of rabies is the long time from infection to the onset of the disease (incubation period). Weeks and months can go to the country. So apparently healthy animals can already excrete the virus and infect other animals and also humans.

But just in this long incubation there is also a chance: who fears that he has come into contact with the virus, can still get vaccinated to prevent the outbreak of the disease. However, the vaccination must be done shortly after the bite.

How is the disease?

The disease is gradual. First, behavioral changes become visible in the animal. At first, wild animals are no longer afraid of humans. Peaceful pets can suddenly start to react and bite aggressively. People first complain of fever, headaches and concentration problems. The bite begins to itch.

As the disease progresses, feelings of anxiety, fits of tantrums, convulsions, and constant salivation are added. This stage is called the "Raging Fury." Reason for the flow of saliva are spasms in the throat, which arise when the patient tries to swallow. These become so strong that even the sound and the sight of water leads to agony; the so-called hydrophobicity (Greek: "fear of water") is created.

Because those affected eventually become extremely sensitive to light, it is believed that rabies has also contributed to the emergence of the vampire legend. Because biting, fear of (holy) water and the fear of sunlight are part of the legend of the bloodsucking undead.

In the third and last stage of the disease, the so-called "silent rage", the seizures and seizures gradually diminish, paralysis sets in and the patient dies.

Injection for fox and raccoon

In Central Europe was tackled since the late 1980s strongly against the wild rabies. Switzerland was the first country to have swallowed foxes.

In Germany, the Fuchstollwut was fought since 1993 by swallowing. At first still with prepared chicken heads, which were laid out by hand; later on, machine-made fishmeal baits were deliberately dropped by aircraft using GPS navigation.

Germany is considered rabies free

The reported rabies cases in wild animals in Germany were reduced from formerly 10, 000 in 1983 to 43 cases in 2004. After the last fox infected with rabies was reported in 2006, Germany has been considered free of rabies since April 2008 - at least with regard to terrestrial rabies. Other types of rabies that can be transmitted by bats, for example, continue to exist, but pose little threat. Since 1977, five deaths have occurred throughout Europe, due to bat rabies.

Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic reached the status "rabies-free" even before Germany.

The "problem zone" in Germany was especially Rhineland-Palatinate and the area around Frankfurt. In Hesse, the high density of settlement and the fragmented landscape made the application of rabies bait difficult.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, which had no problems with rabies for a long time, cases had repeatedly occurred in 2005, because apparently infected animals had crossed the Rhine and could penetrate into the long time unvaccinated fox population on the left side of the Rhine.

How the vaccine baits work

The so-called Tübinger bait, which was developed especially for the fight against rabies, are brown round objects, which smell strongly after fish and in which liquid vaccine is. Foxes and raccoons, which proliferate in Germany, apparently accept these baits well.

The vaccine consists of live but harmless rabies viruses. Because only living viruses survive the gastrointestinal passage and lead to a sufficient activation of the immune system.

Anyone coming in contact with a rabies bait should contact a doctor in any case. Although the vaccines are subject to extremely strict conditions imposed by the European Union and the World Health Organization, it is safer to get vaccinated against rabies after exposure to the live vaccine. The WHO also advises.

Rabies is a problem worldwide

Rabies is still omnipresent in Eastern Europe, as well as Africa and Asia. There is also a regular report of rabies in raccoons and bats in the USA.

The feather mice are a native of America, the vampire bat. This feeds exclusively on mammalian blood. Especially cattle belong to the prey scheme of the vampire bat. Up to 100, 000 cattle succumb to rabies annually due to a bat bite. Human deaths per year vary depending on the region, but are at most in the double digits.

Tourists from rabies-poor zones have apparently often lost the fear of the virus. In 2007, a tourist died of rabies because he had taken a dog on the beach in Morocco. The animal was infected with the rabies virus and soon shows the typical behavioral changes: The formerly peaceful dog began to bite.

The girlfriend of the tourist got a bite of the sick animal from. However, she did not fall ill while her boyfriend fell into a coma and died in a French hospital about two weeks later.

Be careful when traveling!

Worldwide, there are many so-called "hot spots" in which rabies is widespread. Tourists traveling to Africa or Asia should therefore be careful not to pick up or even feed seemingly tame animals such as dogs and cats. The danger of being infected by a stray animal is just too great.

When traveling to India, Thailand, Ethiopia or other areas with a high rabies rate, the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine even advises people to find out about a preventive vaccination.

Who should get vaccinated against rabies?

In general, all people who deal a lot with (wild) animals should be vaccinated against rabies.

Even dogs and cats can only be protected by regular vaccinations. In Poland and the Balkans, for example, rabies cases are still common and open border traffic within Europe makes it possible to bring the disease to Germany at any time.

Abroad, the greatest caution should always be exercised with seemingly tame animals. Especially children on vacation trips must be explained in an understandable way that they can not touch or feed an animal if it is not safely vaccinated against rabies.

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