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Rabies is a viral zoonotic neuroinvasive disease which causes inflammation in the brain and is usually fatal. Rabies primarily infects mammals and is caused by the rabies virus. Animals with rabies suffer deterioration of the brain and tend to behave bizarrely and often aggressively, increasing the chances that they will bite another animal or a person and transmit the disease.
Stages of disease
Three stages of rabies are recognized in dogs and other animals.
Rabies has a long history of association with dogs. The first written record of rabies is in the Codex of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BC), which dictates that the owner of a dog showing symptoms of rabies should take preventive measure against bites. If a person was bitten by a rabid dog and later died, the owner was fined heavily.
Three stages of rabies are recognized in dogs. The first stage is a one- to three-day period characterized by behavioral changes and is known as the prodromal stage. The second stage is the excitative stage, which lasts three to four days. It is this stage that is often known as furious rabies due to the tendency of the affected dog to be hyperreactive to external stimuli and bite at anything near. The third stage is the paralytic stage and is caused by damage to motor neurons. Incoordination is seen due to rear limb paralysis and drooling and difficulty swallowing is caused by paralysis of facial and throat muscles. Death is usually caused by respiratory arrest.
Transport of pet animals between countries
Rabies is endemic to many parts of the world, and one of the reasons given for quarantine periods in international animal transport has been to try to keep the disease out of uninfected regions. However, most developed countries, pioneered by Sweden, now allow unencumbered travel between their territories for pet animals that have demonstrated an adequate immune response to rabies vaccination.
Such countries may limit movement to animals from countries where rabies is considered to be under control in pet animals. There are various lists of such countries. The United Kingdom has developed a list, and France has a rather different list, said to be based on a list of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE). The European Union has a harmonised list. No list of rabies-free countries is readily available from OIE.
In recent years, canine rabies has been practically eliminated in North America and Europe due to extensive and often mandatory vaccination requirements. However it is still a significant problem in Africa, the Middle East,Latin America, and Asia. Dogs are considered to be the main reservoir for rabies in developing countries.
However, the recent spread of rabies in the northeastern United States and further may cause a restrengthening of precautions against movement of possibly rabid animals between developed countries.
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