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After an incubation period of one to two months rabies presents with non-specific prodromal symptoms and often with paraesthesiae of the bitten area. As in canine rabies there are furious and dumb forms of the disease. In man, furious rabies is characterised by hydrophobia: terror and excitation with spasms of inspiratory muscles, larynx and pharynx precipitated by attempts to drink and by a variety of other stimuli. Hydrophobia may represent an exaggerated respiratory tract irritant reflex with associated arousal potentiated by the selective destruction of brain stem inhibitory systmes. Also typical of furious rabies are intermittent episodes of excitement, hallucinations and maniacal behaviour. Focal neurological abnormalities are surprisingly uncommon. Other signs include hypersalivation, tachycardia and hyperpyrexia. Paralysis and coma supervene after a few days: survival rarely exceeds seven days. Dumb or paralytic rabies is an ascending flaccid paralysis with sphincter involvement and sensory disturbances. Death from respiratory and bulbar paralysis occurs after a longer illness than furious rabies. In a minority of cases hydrophobia develops before the terminal coma. Complications include respiratory arrest, pneumonitis, cardiac arrhythmias and interstitial myocarditis, posterior pituitary disorders, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Differential diagnoses of furious rabies include hysterical pseudo hydrophobia, tetanus, other encephalitides, delirium tremens and various other intoxications. Paralytic rabies may have to be distinguished from postvaccinal encephalomyelitis, poliomyelitis and other causes of Landry-type ascending paralysis. Intensive care has produced some promising results: life-threatening complications can be prevented but there is some evidence that the severity of the encephalitis is the ultimate barrier to survival.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg

Publication Date

1976

Volume

70

Pages

188 - 195

Keywords

Arrhythmias, Cardiac, Diagnosis, Differential, Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental, Humans, Prognosis, Rabies, Respiratory Paralysis, Spasm