We can’t help but love our pets. They provide us companionship and comfort, which can benefit us in many ways especially now that we’re spending more time at home. But while pets are undoubtedly therapeutic, unfortunately, they also have the potential to pose a threat to our health. One of these is rabies infection.
A bite or even a scratch of an animal can transmit this virus to humans, which can put you and your pet’s life in danger. According to the Department of Health, almost half of the annual rabies cases in the Philippines involve domesticated pets. This means that now more than ever, furparents need to be extra vigilant in protecting themselves and their pets. There are current ways to prevent this such as vaccinating our pets, but it is still essential to know what to do once exposed.
In celebration of World Rabies Day last September 28, ZP Therapeutics, a division of Zuellig Pharma Corporation (ZPC), advocated for early prevention, proper treatment, and control of the disease. During a virtual event entitled, “Review of Animal Bite Management “, the company took the opportunity to provide continuing education to the healthcare community while spreading information to the public. General and Laparoscopic Surgeon Dr. Vinzon Valencia, FPSGS, FPCS, led the insightful discussion, which revolved around this year’s theme, “Rabies: Facts, Not Fear”. It updated participants on the latest rabies information and clinical management. Ultimately, the event highlighted the importance of proper information and how that can greatly help us in our fight against rabies.
How is rabies transmitted?
Protecting ourselves from rabies starts with knowing and understanding the different ways in how it can be contracted. There are three categories of exposure, depending on the severity and area of exposure:
Category I, which is transmitted through:
- Feeding or touching the infected animal, licking of intact skin;
- Exposure to a patient with signs and symptoms of the infection by sharing of eating and/or drinking utensils;
- Casual contact and routine delivery of healthcare to the symptomatic patient.
Category II can be transmitted through:
- Nibbling of uncovered skin, with or without bruising or hematoma;
- Minor or superficial scratches or abrasions without bleeding, including those induced to bleed;
Category III can be transmitted through:
- Transdermal bites (such as puncture wounds, lacerations, avulsions) or scratches or abrasions with spontaneous bleeding;
- Licks on broken skin or mucous membrane;
- Exposure to a rabies patient through bites, contamination of mucous membranes or open skin lesions, and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation;
- Unprotected handling of an infected carcass;
- Ingestion of raw infected meat;
- Exposure to bats;
- All Category III exposures on the head and neck area.
What to do after possible exposure?
If you’ve been bitten, scratched, or may have been exposed to rabies via any of these three categories, immediately wash the wounded with soap and running water for at least 15 minutes. This is the most reliable way to lower your chances of infection. Dr. Valencia advised against dressing the wounded area, as this will only favor the growth of bacteria and increase the likelihood of infection. Self-medicating is also strongly discouraged, though, for it’s best to just leave the situation to our healthcare professionals. So if you are seeking help from traditional healers like manghihilot, tandok, or tawak, know that this will just even promote the spread of infection, and it won’t be of any help!
For Category II & III exposures, it is best to see a healthcare provider for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 24 hours. Your healthcare provider will assess the patient and shall administer the necessary rabies vaccine or rabies immunoglobulin (RIG) shots. The schedule of these shots will follow WHO’s updated recommendations on the rabies vaccine regimen schedule, as discussed by Dr. Valencia. Make sure not to skip though, for your doses should be completed until Day 7, regardless of the status of the biting animal.
Are there any contraindications on Rabies Immunoglobulin (RIGs)?
Worried about getting your Rabies Immunoglobulin (RIG) after getting exposed? Don’t fret. According to Dr. Valencia, there are no contraindications for rabies vaccines and RIGs. This also goes for breastfeeding and pregnant women, and even someone who has recently received a COVID-19 vaccine. In view of rabies infection’s risk to our lives, we should prioritize administration of PEP no matter what the case may be. Getting protected from rabies infection is always more important because it can save someone’s life.
Indeed, knowledge is key when it comes to dealing with rabies. As Dr. Valencia said, “Rabies is fatal and irreversible but it is avoidable”. It can save your life, your loved one’s life, and of course, spare your furbaby from the dangerous disease. Join ZP Therapeutics in taking World Rabies Day as an opportunity to educate ourselves. Even in the smallest way we can, by spreading facts and not fear, we can all make rabies a thing of the past.