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Is There Really No Cure For Rabies?

Medically reviewed by Kristina Campos, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Oct 13, 2021

Is There Really No Cure For Rabies?

The initial symptoms of rabies include flu-like symptoms such as fever and headache. In the later stages, the patient may experience fear of water, hallucination, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, and partial paralysis. According to experts, once the symptoms manifest, there’s no stopping rabies from claiming a person’s life. Is there really no rabies cure? Find out here.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection transmitted from animals to humans.

There are two forms of human rabies infection: paralytic and frantic (also called furious). Between the two, the more common is frantic rabies, accounting for about 80% of all cases.

Paralytic rabies results in muscle weakness and eventual paralysis.

On the other hand, frantic or furious rabies leads to hyperactivity, periods of agitation, excessive salivation, fear of water, and sometimes, fear of air.

How do humans get the rabies infection?

Before we talk about the possibility of a rabies cure, it’s best to know what causes it in the first place. Rabies infection comes from the saliva of rabid animals. Commonly, humans get it from bites and scratches. However, it’s also possible to get rabies when a rabid animal licks a wound or broken skin, or the lining of the mouth and nose.

According to the World Health Organization, 96% of all human rabies infection in South East Asia occurs due to dog bites. But please keep in mind that cats, mongooses, foxes, bats, and other carnivorous animals can also transmit the virus.

Rabies cure: Does it exist?

Now, here’s the question: is there really no rabies cure?

Unfortunately, once the symptoms manifest, rabies is unstoppable, with almost 100% of cases leading to death.

The good news is, the rabies virus doesn’t immediately invade the nervous system after a bite, scratch, or lick. How long it takes for the virus to come in contact with a nerve cell varies; usually, it depends on the location of the affected site (how far away it is from the brain) and the type of rabies virus.

According to the WHO, symptoms start to appear anywhere from 7 days to 1 year, but commonly between 2 to 3 months.

The time before the virus reaches the nervous system is crucial. It gives the patient time to get post-exposure prophylaxis that helps prevent the infection from taking hold.

What to do if you have been bitten or scratched

If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to the rabies virus, and especially if there are visible marks, seek medical help immediately.

Most hospitals in the Philippines have an Animal Bite Center where you can get assessed and treated with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP consists of anti-rabies vaccination and rabies immunoglobulin.

Below are the categories set by the WHO:

Category 1

Description: Feeding or touching animals, licks on intact skin

Treatment: Not needed

Category 2

Description: Nibbling of uncovered skin, slight scratches or abrasions without bleeding

Treatment: Local treatment of the wound and immediate vaccination

Category 3

Description: Single or multiple scratches or bites, licks on broken skin, contamination of the lining of mouth and nose from licks, exposure to bats.

Treatment: Local treatment of the wound, immediate vaccination, and administration of rabies immunoglobulin.

rabies cure

How to prevent rabies infection

While you cannot cure rabies once symptoms start, you can prevent it by:

  • Vaccinating your dogs. Experts say you don’t need to get PEP as long as the vaccine’s efficacy in the dog that bit you is confirmed through laboratory tests.
  • Avoiding wild animals.
  • Keeping your pets confined or supervised. This prevents them from coming in contact with rabid animals.
  • Reporting stray animals to authorities.
  • Getting the vaccine if you’re traveling to a place where rabies is common.

Key Takeaways

There may be no rabies cure, but as discussed, post-exposure prophylaxis is available.

Vaccination, along with proper wound care and administration of immunoglobulin, is almost always effective in preventing rabies infection from invading the nervous system.

For this reason, go to the nearest hospital or Animal Bite Center immediately if you suspect rabies exposure.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Kristina Campos, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Oct 13, 2021

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