6 Awful Things You Learn During A Rabies Scare

I never really thought about rabies, simply because I never had to. The dog from Cujo had it. The zombies from Left 4 Dead have it. And that was about where my knowledge ended -- it's a fantasy disease that only happens in horror plots or that one episode of The Office.

After my wife and dogs had the potential to get it (from a bat in our house that tested positive for rabies), I started brushing up on this horrifying asshole of a disease, and my first thought was, "Shouldn't it be easy in the 21st century not to get rabies?" With today's modern medicine and techniques, rabies should be about as prevalent as smallpox, right?

Not exactly. Here's why.

#6. You Can Get It From A Whole Bunch Of Animals

ivkuzmin/iStock/Getty Images

Back in 2012, I woke up to screams that there was a bat clinging to our ottoman. The little son of a bitch even hissed at my wife when she got near it.

This little son of a bitch, to be exact.

Now, this wasn't our first time to the bat rodeo ... which actually sounds like a terrifying concept, so let's start over. This wasn't our first trip to the bat strip club. A few months prior, we found one flying around the basement that we did not manage to catch. Luckily, this time it was daytime and the little fella was asleep. Animal control was called, they took him away, and we thought that was that. Not even a month later ...

"Hey, my buddy said it was cool for me to crash here."

At this point, I deduced that either my wife is Batman or we have a serious fucking bat problem in this house.

I decided to strap on my research pants (fluffy pajama bottoms that read "STUDMUFFIN" on the ass) for a quick look at some bat information. While I found substantial evidence to refute the Batman theory, I did discover some equally disappointing evidence to support my second theory.

He spreads five times more disease using this one weird trick. Exterminators hate him!

Did you know bats account for 23.2 percent of all reported rabies cases? I always thought of bats as blind idiots who make vampires happen. I never thought they could actually kill us. But bats aren't even the main group that causes rabies. Raccoons and skunks are at the top of the list, with foxes and other rodents not far behind. But these animals are just the main ones to transmit the disease. They can then go on to transfer it to any warm-blooded mammal, right in their stupid faces.

Dr. Frank Fenner
Pictured: a wholly non-discriminating virus. Respect.

Not only do mammals have the ability to infect each other, they do it a lot. Around 7,000 times a year, in fact, and that's just the ones that we physically find and diagnose. That was the first curveball the virus threw me. There's a whole lot more rabies floating around out there than I thought. Luckily, during my 14-and-a-half minutes of research, which now qualifies me as a scientist, I also discovered that due to vaccination efforts in humans and domestic dogs, rabies actually kills only two or three people per year in the U.S. So we should be fine, right?

I kept reading and learned that's not necessarily true.

#5. You Usually Don't Know You Have It

RosicaSabotanova/iStock/Getty Images

Well, shit. We now have three confirmed bat attacks in the house, and God knows how many of them were flying around our bedroom while we were sleeping and vulnerable. Plus, I did some quick math in my head: Two people die from rabies in the U.S. every year, and there were two of us. I didn't like those odds. So the next thing to find out: Were we bitten by our new bat friends? Well, like most of the facts you'll find about rabies, this answer was none too thrilling either. Have you ever seen a bat bite?

Nebraska Public Health
All the zoom/enhance in the world can't help you this time.

See those two little dots there in between the MM line? Yeah, neither do most. Turns out, bat bites are exceptionally tiny and are often confused with mosquito bites. And if that's not enough bullshit for you, how about this? You don't even necessarily need to get bitten for the virus to be transferred. All it takes is a little bit of their infected saliva. So even kissing one isn't safe. Time to edit my bucket list.

Ivan Kuzmin/iStock/Getty Images

The facts were beginning to stack up. Bats cause rabies, our house is basically a rave meetup spot for bats ... so at some point, we had the potential to be exposed to rabies. So I decided, fine, we'll go and get a stupid rabies test so they can tell us we don't have stupid rabies and that will be the stupid end of it. That was when I learned my next surprise about the rabies virus: There is currently no test to detect the virus before symptoms appear. A small snag in my plan, but not necessarily the end of the world, unless of course the bat kills us with stupid rabies.

This quick afternoon of research was now turning into a whole thing. Whatever -- we'll just have to keep an eye out for the symptoms of rabies and that will be that.

#4. The Symptoms Range From Flu-Like To Downright Horrifying

Claudia Hung/iStock/Getty Images

Let me get this out of the way right now: Rabies symptoms are fucking scary. First of all, they might not surface for a while. The incubation period for rabies usually lasts around three months before you start to show signs of the virus. But studies have shown it lying dormant for five days to several years before the symptoms kicked in. So not only won't you know you have the disease, it might not come to bite you in the ass for a couple of years, long after the animal that caused it has laughed itself to death.

Marcin Pawinski/iStock/Getty Images
What we refer to in the animal kingdom as "the long con."

Let's say the disease finally does rear its ugly head. What then? Well, that's when the real fun begins. First off, you'll get a fever, restlessness, sore throat ... you know, all the symptoms of the flu. From then on, you lose muscle function and suffer convulsions until you finally graduate to full-on hydrophobia, which means your body actively refuses to allow water into your system. Even attempting to take a drink of water causes your throat to spasm. You're basically reduced to a convulsing, snarling nightmare straight out of ... Left 4 Dead.

Valve Corporation
Oh, now I get it.

Oh, and the other great thing about rabies is once you start showing symptoms, you're fucked. There's nothing they can do for you. People who are diagnosed by their symptoms rarely live past a week. So we're dealing with a virus that you may or may not get ... from most animals ... that you might go years before actually becoming symptomatic ... and when you do, you might confuse it for a disease so common and mild its treatment is basically just soup. Awesome.

At this point, I had sufficient reason to want to prevent this from happening to me. I could have called the doctor's office right then and made an appointment. But, like an idiot, I decided to see if anyone was able to beat the odds and survive rabies after diagnosis so I wouldn't have to be bothered with dealing with treatment. And they did! Finally, some good news.

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Erik Germ

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