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What is Rabies?

Rabies is a zoonotic disease that causes progressive and potentially fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It is spread to people through bites or scratches.

Rabies is almost always fatal following the onset of clinical symptoms. Initial symptoms of rabies include a fever with pain and unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking or a burning sensation at the wound site.

There are two forms of the disease:

  • Furious rabies: People with furious rabies exhibit signs of hyperactivity, excitable behaviour, hydrophobia (fear of water) and sometimes aerophobia (fear of drafts or of fresh air). Death usually occurs after a few days due to cardio-respiratory arrest.
  • Paralytic rabies: Accounts for about 20% of the total number of human cases. This form of rabies usually lasts longer than the furious form of rabies.

Symptoms include the gradual paralysis of the muscles starting at the site of the bite or scratch. Following, a person typically falls into a coma and eventually death occurs. The paralytic form of rabies is often misdiagnosed, contributing to the under-reporting of the disease.

WHO road map target:

Elimination as a public health problem by 2030

Key stats

  • Rabies occurs

    in more than 150 countries and territories

  • Over 95% of human deaths

    occurring in Asia and Africa

Reported number of human rabies deaths 2021

Reported number of human rabies deaths per year

Further information