Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of mammals. It is almost always fatal once symptoms begin to show. Rabies is usually transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal. The virus multiplies at the site of the bite and after a few days moves up the nerves to the brain.
After reaching the brain, the rabies virus moves to the salivary gland. The presence of the rabies virus in saliva enables the virus to infect another animal or person. Rabies virus usually produces behavioral changes in animals that make them more disposed to bite. This facilitates transmission to another animal.
Other Methods of Infection
Rabies can also be transmitted when infected saliva comes in contact with an open wound, the eye, or the mouth. There have been occasional transmissions between humans through cornea or organ transplants. A scratch from a rabid animal could transmit the disease because there might be a virus on its nails. Petting a rabid animal has never been shown to transmit rabies to humans.
Indiana animals considered to be at the highest risk of transmitting rabies to humans include bats, skunks, foxes, raccoons, and coyotes.
Dogs and cats can also transmit rabies that they have acquired from wildlife, but pets are rarely found rabid in Indiana. Reptiles and birds never get rabies.
Theoretically, rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. can transmit rabies, but bites from these animals are not considered a rabies risk in Indiana at this time. Your local health department can help you evaluate the risk of rabies following an animal bite.
Brief History of Rabies in Indiana
Until the early 1960's, most of the rabies cases in Indiana were dogs, cats, and animals bitten by dogs and cats. After pet vaccination increased and animal control programs were established, dog and cat rabies decreased rapidly. From the 1960s to 1988 skunks were the most commonly found rabid animals in Indiana.
After 1988 bats became the most common rabid animal. Rabid bats have been found somewhere in the state every year since 1965. Rabies in skunks has been restricted to counties in far south-central Indiana, where rabies in skunks continues to be transmitted at a very low level.
The chart below lists (as of December 2013) the number of each species found rabid in Indiana since 1962 and the last year in which a rabies case in that species occurred:
|Number of Bats that Tested Positive for Rabies in Indiana, by Year (2008 - 2020)|
|Most Recent Rabies Cases by Species in Indiana|