Hydrophobia (fear or aversion for water) is only a symptom, and is shown only by man, not, as is commonly believed, by dogs. Notwithstanding that there are cranks (even a few of them in the medical profession) who assert that there is no such disease as rabies, it is in fact the most terrible ailment that afflicts mankind. In a great majority of cases, unless the patient is given the Pasteur treatment in due time, he will suffer the most excruciating agony, and death is certain, since no known drug is of any avail. Faith in the curative powers of "the madstone" is nothing but a superstition: the compacted fiber from an animal's stomach, or calculus, or porous stone, which goes by that name merely clings if there happens to be a discharge of blood or pus from the wound, and draws out no virus whatever; for there is none in the circulation—the virus of rabies travels along the nerves.
Epidemics of rabies are by no means confined to domesticated animals. They occur among wolves, foxes, jackals, hyenas, bears, skunks, rats, and even among birds. It is likely that this disease accounts for the sudden disappearance of certain animals from a given locality, when other explanations fail, as was the case with wolves in the Alleghanies about the beginning of the 19th century.* In Arizona and other parts of the Southwest it is generally believed that the bite of the little spotted or rock skunk is more than likely to transmit rabies; so the animal often is called "hydrophobia skunk." I have already discussed this matter in Vol. I., p. 262.
As regards symptoms, there are two types of rabies:
First the animal's disposition changes: if formerly playful, it becomes morose; if quiet and dignified, it now grows unusually affectionate, as if seeking sympathy. In the course of a day or two it becomes irritable, and may snap if startled. It begins to wander about, and disappears at intervals, hiding in corners or dark places, from which it resents being removed. Its bark is indiscribably changed. There is no appetite, and the animal has difficulty in swallowing. Saliva may dribble from the mouth, but it does not froth as in a fit. Restlessness and irritability increase until the beast becomes furious, biting at anything thrust toward him, and even at imaginary objects. The creature now. begins to take long journeys, and will assault other animals, but never makes any outcry during these attacks. Then signs of paralysis appear. It overcomes first his hind legs, then the lower jaw, and ultimately becomes general. He dies in from five to eight days after the appearance of the symptoms.
This type is uncommon. There is no marked irritability. The animal lies stupidly in seclusion. Paralysis comes early and is quickly progressive. Death usually ensues in two or three days.
In man, the period between the bite and the appearance of the symptoms averages forty days. It may be a year or more; it may be only two weeks, or even less if the bite was a bad, lacerating one affecting important nerves, or in the face. Consequently, when a man is bitten by an animal known to be rabid, or by one that develops rabies within less than forty days after it has inflicted the bite, he should be sent at once to a Pasteur institute. If he goes in time, he has ninety-nine chances in a hundred to recover. Otherwise, unless the wound was so superficial as to have done no injury under the skin, and it was promptly cauterized, his chance is scarce one in a hundred.
*See Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, from 1763 to 1783, by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Doddridge, a contemporary and excellent authority.
These have already been discussed at some length in Vol. L, pp. 241-259. An application of honey, moistened salt, or of ammonia, or a cloth saturated in a solution of baking soda, or even wet earth, will suffice in all ordinary cases. Our most dangerous insect is the common housefly: "it does not wipe its feet".