VELLORE: Dr Jacob John, a noted virologist and former head, Department of Clinical Virology at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, has pointed out that human rabies is not contagious.
Referring to a news item that had appeared in this daily dated September 5, titled ‘Discharge of Rabies Patient lands Tiruchy Hospital in trouble,’ Jacob said, fear of rabies being contagious is unfounded as humans were dead-end hosts for rabies virus and transmission did not occur from patient to even close family members or to health care workers.
“Illogical fear comes with ignorance and many studies have proved that human rabies is not contagious,” he added.
According Jacob John, a person with rabies will be conscious for a day or two, before falling into a coma. Rabies diagnosis is in reality a death sentence he said adding, healthcare workers must show empathy and compassion, providing comforting words and acts. Incarceration in solitary isolation rooms in hospitals was, according to him, unwarranted and family members should be allowed to stay with the infected patients.
Counselling family members about the remote possibility of virus in saliva and other body fluids is commonsense, he added. While the infected dog has the deadly virus in its saliva, it has been found out that in rare cases infected humans have traces of virus in their saliva
Family members related to the infected patients should be instructed on how to avoid contact with such fluids while preparing the body for burial/cremation. Separate cremation is unnecessary, he added.
Dr Jacob also stressed that every case of rabies must be reported to the Integrated Disease Surveillance System. The system should trigger alerting the district or corporation health officers for the purpose of investigating the source of infection and taking adequate control measures. Second, organ harvesting should be avoided, since any tissue including cornea of eye, will have rabies viruses and should not be transplanted.
Because of its devastating effect, rabies has been one of the most feared diseases caused by the Rhabdoviridae family of viruses. When a rabid animal bites a person, the rabies virus, which lives in the animal’s saliva, is transmitted through the body, where it can attack the central nervous system, [the part of the nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord), leading to encephalitis and death within a few days.
Early intervention for infected persons should begin with rabies immune globulin. In rare cases, perhaps one in one million, there is the possibility of the patient recovering from infection if they are kept in a place with low body temperature and treated with antibiotics, he added.