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Underestimated risk: how dangerous is rabies?


Dangerous infectious disease: rabies is still a threat

On Sunday evening, a man was seen in the Dortmund "crime scene", who had to suffer a terrible death after an rabies infection. For the TV investigators, the question arose of how this could have happened. Since then, some viewers have also wondered whether one can actually still become infected with the dangerous disease in this country. In theory, experts explain.

Rabies danger in Germany?

Anyone who sat in front of the television on Sunday evening may have watched a prisoner die in great agony in the Dortmund "crime scene". The man was deliberately infected with rabies. But is there really still a danger in Germany of catching the infectious disease believed to have been defeated? In the TV crime thriller, this was made possible by access to rabies viruses stored in a laboratory. But is there still a risk in everyday life? Experts have the answers.

Rabies kills tens of thousands every year

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 59,000 people die from rabies each year worldwide. In Germany, the dangerous infectious disease was virtually eradicated.

The virus has only been detected in bats in Germany in recent years, which is why experts warn that the animals should never be touched with bare hands.

"For people living in Germany, there is currently an increased risk of infection almost exclusively when traveling to countries with endemic rabies," wrote the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on its website.

Therefore, according to health experts, the risk of rabies should always be considered when traveling abroad.

Dog bite infections

“Most human deaths are the result of bites from rabies-infected dogs. While dogs are the main reservoir for the classic rabies virus, in the past it was foxes in Germany, ”said the RKI.

The virus can also be transmitted if damaged skin or the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eye come into contact with infected dog saliva, for example.

However, the last rabies case in Germany was a long time ago. It was a man who was bitten by a stray dog ​​in Morocco in 2007.

There is no cure for rabies

If there is a bite or scratch, the area must be cleaned thoroughly and a doctor consulted. If one waits to see whether rabies symptoms appear, then it is usually too late for therapy.

Infection with the rabies pathogen is usually treated with immediate active vaccination and with special antibodies (immunoglobulin). Preventive vaccination is also available.

There is no cure for rabies. The disease does not break out in everyone who has become infected, but in those who break it out, it is almost 100 percent fatal.

Without treatment, the infection quickly leads to death

After an infection, there are initially uncharacteristic symptoms such as headache and loss of appetite. Fever does not occur in everyone.

Burning, itching and increased pain sensitivity in the area of ​​the bite wound are also possible. At this stage it may be too late for treatment.

Later, there will be, among other things, cramps in the pharynx and considerable fear of drinking. The patient's mood changes between aggressive and depressive mood.

“Death usually occurs in a coma and under the signs of respiratory paralysis. In untreated patients, there is a maximum of 7 days between the appearance of the first symptoms and death, ”writes the RKI.

Years can pass before the onset of the disease

“The incubation period is usually three to eight weeks. In individual cases, it can even take several years for the disease to break out, ”explains Professor Dr. med. Tomas Jelinek, Scientific Director of the CRM Center for Travel Medicine in a message.

The expert advises you to prevent and get a complete vaccine with a modern cell culture before you travel. For complete protection, the rabies vaccination is given in three doses within several weeks.

With the so-called rapid immunization, it is also possible to vaccinate within a week. After contact with an animal suspected of rabies, vaccinations should be given again to be on the safe side. (ad)

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