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The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache. These symptoms may last for days. There also may be discomfort or prickling or itching sensation at the site of the bite, progression within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, and agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. The acute period of disease typically ends after 2 to 10 days with death.
Human rabies cases are rare in the United States, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. The number of human deaths in the United States attributed to rabies has been steadily declining since the 1970’s due to animal control and vaccination programs, modern rabies preventative treatment following exposure, and successful outreach campaigns. Rabies vaccination programs have eliminated domestic dogs as reservoirs of rabies in the United States, although we still see 80 – 100 dogs and over 300 cats with rabies each year, usually infected by wildlife when these domesticated pets are not vaccinated against rabies.