The Virginia Department of Health confirmed on Friday, May 12, that one of the state's residents was diagnosed with rabies. However, it did not reveal the name of the patient due to privacy concerns.
Human rabies infection is uncommon in the United States with roughly one to three cases reported annually. However, health officials say that once infected, the chances of the individual's survival are very low.
What Is Rabies?
The virus affects the central nervous system and early symptoms usually range from fever to headaches and general weakness. However, within days, the infected person experiences hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, hydrophobia (fear of water), anxiety, and insomnia. The CDC states that death generally occurs just days after the first symptoms show up.
The Central Virginia Case
The person who has been infected with the virus in Central Virginia was bitten by a rabid dog while in India. As a preventive measure, the Virginia Department of Health or VDH will work with the CDC to ensure that no other person who came in contact with the infected individual was exposed to the virus.
"While the only documented cases of human-to-human transmission of rabies have been via organ transplantation, acting out of an abundance of caution, VDH is assessing those who had direct contact with this patient to see if there is any concern that they may have been exposed to rabies," a VDH press release stated.
Human rabies infections in the United States are very rare and only 28 cases have been reported since 2006. The last human rabies case in the state of Virginia occurred in 2009, when one of the residents tested positive for the disease. This individual too had been bitten by a dog in India.
However, among the 28 known cases since 2006, only 8 occurred due to exposure internationally, while the rest took place within the country itself.
"Virginia is rabies endemic — you don't have to travel internationally to be exposed. If a person in Virginia is bitten by an animal, we ask them to take certain precautions like washing the wound thoroughly with lots of soap and water, try to identify the animal, then alert someone — particularly in the local health department," Julia Murphy, a veterinarian at the VDH, remarked.
Additionally, those traveling abroad should check with their physician regarding the vaccinations recommended prior to their departure.