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An acute, viral infection of the nervous system, once known as hydrophobia that affects mammals, including bats. The virus spreads long nerve pathways to the brain, once symptoms have risen, rabies is generally fatal.

Causes and incidence

Rabies may be transmitted from a rabid animal to human by a lick or bite over broken skin; the majority of human cases result from being bitten by a rapid animal, usually dog. Rabies is an extremely uncommon disease in the U.K


The average incubation period is three to twelve weeks, depending on the site of the bite. The initial symptoms of rabies are headache and a slight fever. These are followed by hyperactivity, restlessness, and in certain cases, strange behaviour, hallucinations, and paralysis of the respiratory muscles. There is often extreme thirst, but drinking brings on excruciating spasms of the throat. Death usually occurs ten to fourteen days after the onset of symptoms.


Succeeding an animal bite, the wound should always been cleaned thoroughly and emergency medical care and advice should be sought. Immunisation with human rabies immunoglobin and a course of rabies vaccine is required; this can stop the onset of rabies. If symptoms arise again they are treated with analgesics (pain killers) and sedative drugs.

Emphasis is put on preventing rabies through human and animal immunisation and quarantine. Prophylactic immunisation is recommended for some people, for example those wild animal handlers and travellers to areas where rabies is endemic.

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