These Age Groups Are Most Likely to Contract Rabies

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A nurse prepares a vaccination shot | -/AFP/Getty Images

While most wild animals you come across are completely harmless (if you leave them to their natural habitat, that is), there is always a chance that one you encounter has a deadly rabies virus. Certain animals in the U.S. are more likely to give you rabies than others, and certain age groups are more likely to contract rabies and experience severe side effects.

In light of a recent rabid beaver attack, the World Health Organization released information regarding who is most susceptible to rabies and will be affected the most drastically by its side effects.

Children under age 15 are most likely to contract rabies

Children under the age of 15 are at the highest risk of contracting rabies from dogs and wild animals because they often play with animals and likely don’t know the dangers of the disease. They’re also less likely to report any bites or scratches, a Sanofi Pasteur spokesperson said.

Somewhere between 30% and 60% of rabies victims from dog bites in 2013 were children in this age group. Raccoons are the most likely transmitters of rabies in the U.S. followed by bats and skunks.

Raccoon on tree

Raccoons are the most frequent transmitter of rabies in the U.S. | iStock.com/amadeusamse

Signs and symptoms of rabies

To protect yourself and your children from rabid animals, you first need to identify the signs an animal has contracted rabies. The first symptoms are fairly difficult to identify and include fever, vomiting, a lack of appetite, and exhaustion. After a few days, animals begin to convey more obvious signs like paralysis, seizures, foaming at the mouth, aggressive behavior, and mental dysfunction.

Identifying the signs your child has been bitten by a rabid animal are extremely crucial, especially if the child is too young to convey it themselves. The incubation period for rabies is generally four to 12 weeks but can range from a few days to six years. Rabies onset begins with symptoms like a fever and muscle weakness similar to the flu.

As the virus wreaks havoc on the nervous system it’s possible to develop two different types of rabies: furious rabies and paralytic rabies.

Symptoms of furious rabies:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Excited/high-energy behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fear of water

Paralytic¬†rabies is far more dangerous. Infected individuals slowly become paralyzed and slip into a comatose¬†state, eventually dying if the disease isn’t treated. Thirty percent of all rabies cases are paralytic.

How to best prevent rabies infection

Preventing rabies is two-fold for pet owners: take the steps to prevent your animals as well as your children from contracting the disease.

Make veterinarian visits frequently and keep all cats, dogs, and ferrets up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Keep your animals under human supervision whenever possible and pay close attention to outdoor cats. Spaying and neutering your pets is a huge help as well — it reduces the likelihood they’ll come into close contact with other animals who weren’t properly vaccinated. Finally, be wary of stray animals around the neighborhood.

Rabies in humans is 100% preventable. However, plenty of countries don’t have access to proper health care that would allow them to get vaccinated or catch a rabies infection early on. The Center for Disease Control found nearly 60,000 people worldwide die from rabies every year, mostly in African and Asian countries.

The best way to ensure your children stay rabies-free is to supervise their outside play as much as possible and instruct them to avoid stray animals or ones they’re unfamiliar with.¬†

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