Rabies - Bulletin - Europe

Rabies Information System of the WHO

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Even with symptoms quite characteristic for rabies, like changes in behaviour or difficulties in swallowing the clinical examination cannot rule out rabies nor confirm the diagnosis.

The incubation period (the time the virus spreads from the peripheral nerves near the site of the bite via the spinal cord to the brain – see transmission and pathogenesis) ranges in general between 2 and 3 month (2 weeks to 6 years are reported) depending on the site of infliction, the amount of virus and the virus strain. Due to its neurotropism all known lyssaviruses cause severe neurological symptoms as a result of an acute encephalitis. Therefore, clinical signs in humans and animals are very similar.

In most cases the disease is transmitted via the bite of rabid animals which shed infectious virus with their saliva. The virus enters the body through transdermal inoculation (i.e. wounds) or direct contact of infectious material (i.e. saliva, cerebrospinal liquid, nerve tissue) to mucous membranes or skin lesions. The virus can not penetrate intact skin.


The RNA genome of Lyssaviruses is 12 kilobases long, non-segmented and of negative polarity encoding five viral proteins (3´ to 5´): nucleoprotein N, phosphoprotein P, matrix protein M, glycoprotein G and polymerase L.

Rabies is caused by negative strand RNA-viruses belonging to the genus Lyssavirus, family Rhabdoviridae of the order Mononegavirales.

Rabies (Lyssa) is one of the oldest known zoonotic diseases; an animal disease transmissible to humans.

Rabies and Rabies Vaccines

Editor(s): Ertl, Hildegund C. J. (Ed.)

ISBN 9783030210847

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