What is rabies?
Rabies is a disease that can affect all mammals. Each year, more than 7,000 animals -- most of them wild -- are diagnosed as having the disease in the United States. The disease is found in all states except Hawaii.
How is rabies contracted?
People become infected with rabies if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. Although rabies in humans is very rare in the United States, each year more than 22,000 people receive treatment to prevent it following an exposure.
How common is rabies?
Since 1980, 17 of 32 cases of human rabies in the United States have been associated with bat-related virus variants. Only one of these patients had a definite bite history. These cases and recent findings suggest that limited or insignificant physical contact with rabid bats may cause infection, even without a clear history of animal bite.
How can I ensure my child's safety so she won't become infected?
Here are some measures for preventing rabies infection:
- Avoid contact with wild animals, especially bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks.
- Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies. This includes cats as well as dogs, since more cats than dogs were reported rabid during 14 of the past 16 years.
- It is not possible to determine if an animal is infected by simple observation. Signs that should lead you to suspect that an animal may be rabid include nervousness, aggressiveness, excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth, or abnormal behavior (e.g., wild animals losing their fear of people, or animals normally active at night being seen in the daytime).
What should I do if I suspect an animal might have rabies?
If you see signs indicating that an animal might have rabies, notify your local animal control division or health department. Do not attempt to capture the animal yourself. If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible, and notify animal control or the health department. If you come into contact with a bat (awake to find one in your room, for example) or see one near an unattended child or mentally challenged or intoxicated person, contact a doctor immediately. Again, notify animal control or the health department.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.