Vietnamese health officials say they have seen 49 human rabies deaths to date in 2016, according to local media, with 80 percent of the mortality being reported from the northern mountainous region.

The Department of Preventive Medicine says deaths have been reported from 20 cities and provinces.


LISTEN: Rabies: A comprehensive interview with Pamela Wilson

Like in most countries, the vast majority of cases are due to bites from rabid cats and dogs. In fact, Vietnam sees around 400,000 such animal bites annually.

Rabies is an acute infection of the central nervous system caused by the rabies virus. It affects mammals like dogs, cats, foxes, bats and humans. When humans are bitten, scratched or licked over their broken skin by an infected animal, the virus in the saliva of the infected animal enters the human body through the wound and travels through nerves to the brain, leading to encephalitis.

The incubation period of rabies may last for a few days to several years, but it is usually three to eight weeks. The initial symptoms may be nonspecific flu-like symptoms such as malaise, fever, or headache, which may last for days. There may be numbness and tingling around the site of the wound. These are followed after a few days by anxiety, confusion, spasm of swallowing muscles, paralysis, coma and death.

Members of the public should avoid stray animals. In case being bitten by an animal, wash the wound with water and soap and seek medical attention.

Worldwide, it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually.