I'm writing here because I'm just about at the end of my rope. I'm currently on an around-the-world trip which was going great for the first two months. But right now I am in a bit of a living hell. I am absolutely convinced I have an incurable disease, specifically rabies.
My trip started out in Europe, then went down to South Africa. There are two incidents that stand out as possible points of infection. The first was about 5 weeks ago when I was hiking in Cape Town with a friend at dusk when we passed a group of somewhat shady-looking locals going up the mountain to camp out overnight. My friend started talking to them, and as they were talking one of them spit a bit (I guess he had a lisp), and some of it landed in and around my eye. I didn't think much of it at the time, despite being grossed out. The next incident was 4 weeks ago while going camping in the Serengeti, and there were some bats flying around us at night. I never felt a bite but I have heard people can be bitten without knowing it. Again, at the time I never thought much of it.
Fast forward about a few days from camping, and I came down with a serious case of nausea/vomiting and diarrhea. The nausea only last one night but the diarrhea persisted for 3 weeks, up until recently. After the first few days I started feeling a little better and continued my trip onward to Hong Kong, during which time I saw two doctors and got my blood tested twice (I was concerned about another illness, African sleeping sickness). My blood tests were negative for any abnormalities, which was reassuring. I started feeling better (the only lingering symptom was the diarrhea, which disappeared more or less by about a week ago). I continued onward to mainland China, where I went hiking and generally enjoyed myself, although was experiencing some fatigue (which I have been feeling throughout the trip, probably from being so active). Anyway, about four days ago, when I was about to leave Chengdu for Xian, I started having some headaches. I started looking online for symptoms, and that's when I began looking at rabies. I have had more recurrent headaches (mostly localized around the back right side of my head), panic attacks, facial numbness, neck stiffness, and difficulty breathing... a sort of choking sensation, like my throat was closing in on me. After a while I would calm down, but the attacks would inevitably return. I continued on to Xian, but the problems continued, so I went to a few doctors, none of whom spoke any English but all of whom reassured me that there was nothing wrong. I had two blood tests done, which came back negative, but I know there are some diseases that don't show up in blood tests at all, or at least not until it's too late.
I decided to return to Hong Kong, since I was feeling miserable and couldn't think about anything else but the possibility that I was about to die a horrific death. I came to the hospital here and saw a doctor who tried to reassure me that there was nothing wrong with me, but offered to run some tests if it would make me feel better. I asked if he could admit me overnight (since I have travel insurance) which he was very reluctant to do but I persisted and told him I was very concerned. He finally agreed to do it, and said he would do blood tests and an MRI the next day (today). They gave me some anti-anxiety pills and some sleeping medication but paradoxically I kept on waking up every 2 hours last night, having very disturbing dreams (some about having rabies, others I don't remember) and woke up this morning with the distinct sensation that an entire week had passed, although that feeling soon faded. I felt better for much of today, I had both the MRI and blood tests done, but I still haven't gotten the results yet and I'm sitting here in my hospital bed starting to obsess over the possibility that something is very wrong. The doctors don't seem to be taking me very seriously, which is reassuring in that in means they don't think I'm sick or infected, but also worrying because I feel like they aren't really paying attention to every possibility. Someone please tell me I'm crazy or I'm going to die, one or the other.
Last edited by YellowSubmarine; 06-19-2012 at 02:08 AM.
Reason: Added information
To get rabies, you must be deeply injected with a fair bit of saliva into the bloodstream. You would have a bite that you COULD NOT miss. It would be pretty major. Spit in the eye or an invisible (possible) bat bite would not cut it. Secondly, if your symptoms (facial numbness, etc) had started, you would not be sitting stressing and wondering - you would be going through with that horrible death you mentioned. Rabies symptoms do not come and go. It hits you like a Mack truck and then you die.
If I were traveling through these places and got vomiting and diarrhea, I must admit that rabies would be fairly low on my list of possible diagnoses. The local food, the water, the parasites and so on are far more likely to be culprits.
Come home and take a course of antibiotics to clear up any lingering infections, and maybe on your next trip, go somewhere less fraught with dangerous diseases. Sera
Thanks for the reply Seraph. What worries me though is that I've read that some of the symptoms of rabies do come and go (periods of anxiety/agitation followed be periods of calm) which I have been experiencing. And I've also read about people who got nipped by a bat, barely noticed it, and were dead a month later. And I'm very concerned that the nausea/diarrhea were an unrelated thing (food poisoning) and this recent episode is something very serious.
What worries me too is that despite the meds they've given me, my headaches still come and go as they please, are localized to one side, and feel like a kind of throbbing pressure inside my head... pretty painful and impossible to ignore. I'll admit that the latest panic episode was caused by Googling, but it's just completely freaked me out. Honestly, I'd rather I had a brain tumor or something.
Once rabies symptoms start, they go dramatically downhill and fast. You might have some headaches during the period while the virus is growing but once it starts, you are toast very fast....you don't have rabies.
But as Seraph said, you probably picked up something in Africa that gave you the GI symptoms and your anxiety since then has produced the rest. What you describe in China with the headaches, facial numbness, hard to breathe....you couldn't describe a panic attack better if you tried. This is anxiety that you think you are dying.
Do you know that only 2-3% of those coming to ER's with chest pain are actually having heart attacks and that they know who is having a panic or anxiety attack by the facial numbness...a sure sign of anxiety and not a heart attack....you are classic.
Bats are supposed to fly around at night....if you found one on the ground during the day and picked it up and it bit you....then you could worry. Remember, rabies makes the host act very weirdly and as if very, very sick and aggressive. And the guy you met....no way.
But I do suspect you picked up a parasite or virus that your body is not used to so you are having a hard time fighting it off and why you are so tired. Most of the symptoms we get when sick are not from the disease itself but our body's attempt to get rid of it. A challenged immune system makes you tired. If it's in the gut, the body tries to wash it out with diarrhea. If it's in the skin, the body may swell or develop a rash or blisters in order to force it out. And since rabies affects the brain, it swells in order to try to get rid of the virus and toxins and that is why once it starts, it is relentless. You don't have any brain swelling...you don't have rabies.
Stop worrying and enjoy the rest of your trip.When you get home, check with an infectious disease specialist and find out what you did pick up and get it treated.