Rabies vaccination: for when things get a little batty

Tyler Stigall, Opinion Editor

Two weeks ago, on a Tuesday morning around 8 a.m., while walking to the laundry room in Walker Hall’s lowest corridor, I was surprised by a pair of wings that swooped down from above, fluttered around my hair and face and settled snugly on the side of my sweatpants. It was a bat.

After smacking the thing off me and showering thoroughly, I walked down to the Winslow Health Center and asked for a ride to the Emergency Room. Within an hour and a half after my “encounter,” I had received the first of a series of four rabies vaccinations.

Had I not chosen to get the shots within 24 hours of the attack, the results might have been lethal. The Center for Disease Control estimates that between 6 to 10 percent of bats that encounter humans carry the rabies virus. That number might seem low, but not in contrast to the mortality rate of rabies: 100 percent.

According to the CDC, symptoms usually show up three to eight weeks after the victim is bitten by a rabid animal, though this time frame can be as quick as five days or as long as two years. Initially, you might feel a fever, or perhaps pain near the site of the bite (pain from more than the physical sundering of flesh). Irritability, dizziness and general malaise soon follow.

You may begin to vomit. You might find it is hard to swallow. You begin hallucinating. You become physically afraid of water because it is hard for you to swallow. You become paralyzed—not rigid, like Neville romantically depicts paralysis in “Harry Potter,” but limp, frail, totally helpless. These are the outward signs of your brain literally swelling beyond the confines of your skull. The virus has traveled up your nervous system and now it is entering its end game.

Death is the only thing that follows. Hence: if you get bitten, scratched, licked by or salivated on by a wild animal, get the shots.

The CDC is quick to point out that if you encounter a bat, even if you do not believe you were bitten, you should still get the shots. Out of the 19 cases of naturally-acquired rabies cases in the United States between 1997 and 2007, 17 were from bats. Only 14 of these patients reported that they knew they had even encountered a bat. Four woke up when a bat landed on them; one, when they were bit.

Some people may choose to opt out of the vaccination regimen out of discomfort, either physically, financially or perhaps morally. I hope to address these discomforts below separately, though the astute reader may find some parallel between my answers to potential protests.

First, concerning physical pain: the shots used to be applied directly to the stomach. I am here to testify that in the year 2016, this is no longer the case. Two shots go into your shoulders, and two go into your buttocks. (Editor’s note: the writer is aware of and accepts the fact that this piece will be posted online and that he is essentially immortalizing a story of how he received two shots in the butt.)

If you are afraid of needles—if sharp things make you squirm—I will again point out that the virus literally travels up your nervous system and causes your brain to swell. The last thing you will know on God’s green Earth is a maddening fear of water and the inability to move your own body. I would take a hundred shots to the stomach before I let myself die that horribly.

Second, concerning financial stressors: yes, the shots do cost around $380 a pop (this from the nurse who graciously administered my second and fourth shot). Even if you have no health insurance, $1,520 is a small sum to pay compared to a horrific brain-swell death. When your water-loving life is on the line, you get vaccinated first, check your pocketbook later.

Finally, and I cannot believe I am even crediting this argument with a counterpoint, though it needs to be addressed: the rabies vaccine will not give you autism. Although, for the sake of argument, let us assume that it does.

The symptoms of autism include, but are not limited to, social inhibition, anxiety, repetitive movements, nervous ticks and unusually intense interest in only a few things. The symptoms of rabies include, and I cannot stress this enough, a Lovecraftian brain-explosion. Take your pick.

If you pet a stray cat and it bites you, get the shots. If you find a stray dog, and he licks a cut on your hand or your face, get the shots. (The virus travels through saliva and can get into your body through mucosal membranes, including your eyes, ears, nose and mouth.) If you find a bat in your room when you wake up in the morning, get the shots.

You will not become a werewolf. You will not turn into a vampire. You will not acquire morally beneficial superpowers and use them to fight Heath Ledger for the good of mankind. You will die, and you will die slowly enough to experience the agony but quickly enough that you will not see all of your friends or family first. Just trust science. Get the shot.