DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have my dogs vaccinated for rabies, but I wonder how necessary this is. I have never heard of a case of rabies. From what animals can people get it? Is it treatable and curable? What actually is it? – O.R.
ANSWER: In the United States and Canada, very few rabies cases are seen in a year, and almost none from domestic animals like cats and dogs because of our policies requiring pet vaccinations. Around the world, however, there are about 55,000 rabies cases annually, and just about 100 percent die from the infection if they are not treated before the signs of rabies develop.
Raccoons, skunks, foxes, wolves and coyotes are the principal carriers of the rabies virus. The No. 1 rabies spreader is bats.
The virus in saliva, transferred from a bite, causes no symptoms for one to three months. At that point, the bitten person comes down with a headache, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite – all common to many other illnesses. One to four days later, the person becomes confused and hallucinates. Muscles go into violent spasms. Saliva and tear production increase markedly. The thought of taking a drink sets off a painful series of contractions of the swallowing muscles. That’s the famous hydrophobia – fear of water – rabies sign. Quickly, the person then slips into a coma, and death is inevitable. Recently, a young woman in Wisconsin did survive rabies.
If a person is immunized soon after being bitten by a rabid animal or bat, the illness does not develop. That is why, if bitten, it is so important to observe domestic animals whose rabies vaccination is doubtful and to send the brain of the wild animal to the state lab when it is possible to do so. Today, only five shots, given over one month, can abort rabies. The shots are not painful.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I brought a list of all my illnesses and all the medicines I have taken when I saw my new doctor for the first time. When the nurse saw my list, she told me that the doctor didn’t have time for so many details. Was I wrong in bringing it? – S.S.
ANSWER: No, a list is a good idea when you see a new doctor. It’s a bad idea to bring a 20-page autobiography with all the details of your life from Day 1. The doctor can pick out the important facts and ask you for pertinent information.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can you tell me about aquagenic pruritis? – N.J.
ANSWER: It’s itching that arises on contact with water of any temperature. The itching lasts from 40 minutes to two hours. Apparently, contact with water causes a release of histamine in the body.
Antihistamines taken prior to water exposure can dampen the reaction. Sodium bicarb in the bathwater prevents it for some. So can beta-blocker drugs like propranolol.
Polycythemia is one of the illnesses that can bring it on. For most, no other illness is involved.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL32853- 6475.
©2007 North America Synd.