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Can You Get Rabies From a Pet Dog? How to Protect Your Kids? Experts Answer FAQs

Here's what to know about preventing and protecting your kids from getting rabies.

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Can one get rabies from minor scratches and licks from a dog? What are some basic precautions that could be taught to children when they pet dogs?

These are some of the questions may be on the minds of parents after the tragic incident where a 14-year-old child died of rabies in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad, earlier in September. The child, who got bitten by a stray dog earlier in August, allegedly did not tell his parents about it due to fear. This also meant that the minor did not get his rabies vaccination on time.

It was only when he started showing symptoms that his family rushed him to the hospital, but his condition deteriorated fast and he passed away during the course of treatment.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that spreads through the saliva of some animals, particularly dogs. There is no treatment for rabies, but death from it can be prevented with timely action. FIT answers your FAQs.

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What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?

In humans, rabies can present with flu-like symptoms of headache, fever and weakness.

As it progresses the patient may experience:

  • Anxiety and confusion

  • Disorientation

  • Aggitation

  • Excessive saliva

  • Vomiting

  • Difficulty swallowing

According to Dr Faisal Bari (Consultant - Emergency Medicine), Manipal Hospital, Ghaziabad, hydrophobic (extreme fear of water) is a major early sign of rabies in humans.

What about in animals? What are some signs to look out for?

Generally a rabid dog presents the following symptoms:

  • Excessive barking

  • Uncharacteristic aggression and fearfulness

  • Seizures

  • Excessive drooling

But a docile and friendly dog may also be infected and spread the virus.

Can you get rabies from a pet dog?

Yes, pet dogs can be carriers too.

"While dog vaccination can protect against rabies, it is not 100 percent protection. There is still a risk," says Dr Vikas Deswal, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Medanta Gurugram.

There is no way to test for rabies infection in an animal, so there are some caveats to vaccination too that must be kept in mind when it comes to pet dogs.

  • Is the dog given regular booster doses on time?

  • Are the antibody levels being checked regularly? Are they optimum?

  • Does the dog interact with other dogs that could potentially have rabies?

Can you get rabies from minor scratches and licks from a dog?

"Yes, it is possible to get rabies from scratches and nibbles," says Dr Deswal.

A child can get rabies if they already have a scratch, wound or cut, and a dog licks it. Basically, any entry point for saliva can lead to infection.

"If its a lick on intact skin, the chances of spreading rabies is very low," he adds.

Also remember, its not just dogs. Cats, cattle, monkeys, and bats can also spread rabies.

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How do you protect your kids? What to teach them?

  • After petting a dog (even a pet dog), make sure they wash their hands thoroughly with soap.

Rabies can also spread if a person has dog saliva on their hands and then touches their eyes and mouth.
  • Discourage children from making any contact with any stray or wild animals.

  • Children should be taught not to tease or bother an animal.

  • Make sure they know to inform you in case they do come in contact with a stray animal. Assure them that this is simply for their safety.

  • If your child does play with a dog, examine the child's hands and legs for possible knicks and scratches. Take due action in case of injury.

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In case of suspicion of infection, what should be the first response?

The first thing to do is to immediately clean the affected area thoroughly with soap and water.

"Do not use any antiseptic or any other ointment," says Dr Deswal.

The next step is to consult with a physician to determine whether rabies vaccine shots and immunoglobulin shots are needed. This will depend on the grade of the wound.

The dog should be quarantined and watched for 10 days. If the dog is infectious, signs of rabies will usually start showing up soon, and definitely with 10 days.

How is it treated?

There is no treatment for rabies. If infected, it is virtually 100 percent fatal.

However, rabies can be prevented with timely action and vaccination. "Rabies vaccines are highly effective, about 98 percent, in preventing infections," says Dr Bari.

What if you only notice the wound after a couple of days?

Dr Bari says, "Most of the patients (of dog bite) that come to the ER come with delayed presentation, that is after a couple of days."

Taking the vaccine even after a couple of days does provide good protection, he says, adding, "Taking it is definitely better than not taking it, even if it's delayed."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  FAQs   Rabies   Dog Bite 

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