Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system; including the brain and spinal cord of animals and humans. Once it develops, it is nearly always fatal.

About Rabies

Rabies is caused by a virus in the saliva of infected animals. A person is exposed to rabies when he comes into contact with a live rabies virus, generally by the bite of a rabid animal. There have been rare reports of persons developing rabies after "non-bite exposures (licks by rabid animals, the air in caves infested with rabid bats, and breathing aerosolized rabies virus in the laboratory. Not all exposures result in rabies. However, because of the seriousness of the infection, everyone exposed to rabies should get treatment.

Animals That Carry Rabies

All warm-blooded animals, including people, can get rabies. However, the disease is mostly found in biting animals such as dogs, cats, bats, skunks, foxes, wolves, coyotes, and raccoons. Rabies is present in all parts of the continental United States. It is one of the most widespread diseases known, being found in the Arctic as well as in the temperate and tropical countries of the world. It occurs in animals during any season of the year. Many cases are reported in livestock, including cows, horses, hogs, and sheep. Livestock generally contracts the disease from the bites of infected wild animals, such as skunks and foxes.

The disease in wildlife, especially in skunks, raccoons, and bats, has become increasingly prominent in recent years, accounting for a percentage of all reported cases of animal rabies. Wild animals are the largest source of rabies infection for people and domestic animals in the United States. Wild animals are not suitable pets and may expose people to unnecessary risk.

Incubation Period

The incubation period is from the time the virus is introduced into the body until it reaches the brain and produces symptoms. In people, the incubation period varies from nine days to a year or more (the average is about 45 days).

The length of the incubation period is influenced by location and severity of the bite. Bites on the head and neck usually produce symptoms most rapidly.

If You Are Bitten by a Wild Animal

Immediately wash the wound with lots of soap and running water.

  • Capture the animal, if possible, so it can be tested. Take care to prevent additional bites or damage to the animal's head.
  • Get medical attention. Go to your family doctor or the nearest emergency room.
  • Call your county health authority.
  • Do not delay seeking medical advice!

If necessary, a dead animal may be kept on ice, double bagged in plastic until it can be tested. Always wear gloves, use a shovel and clean the area with one part bleach and 10 parts water. Keep the dead animal in a protected area away from people and other animals.

If You Are Bitten by a Pet Dog or Cat

  • Immediately wash the wound with lots of soap and running water.
  • Obtain the pet owner's name, address and telephone number.
  • Find out if the animals have current rabies vaccination and write down the rabies tag number.
  • Get medical attention. Go to your family doctor or the nearest emergency room.

Call your County health authority. Have the following information ready:

type and description of the animal including any features or marks

  • If it was a pet, whether it wore a collar
  • Tags and where it lives
  • How the bite occurred
  • Whether the animal has been seen in the area before and in what direction it was traveling

What to Do if You See a Wild Animal (Especially a Raccoon, Skunk, Bat, or Fox)

  • Stay away and keep children away.
  • Keep pets indoors.
  • Let the animal go away on its own.
  • If, the animal is in a situation where it can't leave on its own, contact your local authorities or your Fish and Game Officer.
  • If the animal is threatening people or pets; Call your local authorities, animal control officer, or Fish and Game Officer.

If Your Pet Is Exposed to an Animal That Might Be Rabid

  • Wear gloves to handle your pet. Saliva from the rabid animal may be on your pet's fur.
  • Isolate your pets from other animals and people for several hours.
  • Call your county health authority for advice.
  • Call your veterinarian. (Vaccinated pets will need a rabies booster shot within five days of the attack.)
  • An unvaccinated pet must be quarantined for six months or humanely destroyed.

General Precautions to Take

  • Vaccinate your dogs and cats.
  • Tightly cap garbage cans. Do not attract wild animals to your home or yard.
  • Feed pets inside and never leave them outdoors unattended.
  • Keep a pair of work gloves handy to use whenever a pet is attacked.