What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?

After a bite or other rabies exposure, the rabies virus has to travel through the body to the brain before it can cause symptoms. This time between the exposure and the appearance of symptoms is called the incubation period, and it may last for weeks to months. The incubation period may vary based on the location of the exposure site (how far away it is from the brain), the type of rabies virus, and any existing immunity.

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 may be also discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of the bite, progressing within days to acute symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, and agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water), and insomnia. The acute period of disease typically ends after 2 to 10 days. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive. To date less than 20 cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been documented, and only a few survivors had no history of pre- or postexposure prophylaxis.

The signs, symptoms, and outcome of rabies in animals can vary, but are often similar to those in humans, including early nonspecific symptoms, acute neurologic symptoms, and ultimately death.