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What is rabies?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Rabies can infect humans, pets, livestock and wildlife. The rabies virus is present in saliva and in the nervous tissue of rabid animals.
How are people and animals exposed to rabies?
Exposure to rabies is most likely the result of an animal bite. However, a scratch or other contact with a rabid animal that allows virus-infected saliva to make contact with a person's (or animal's) mucous membranes or bloodstream (including eyes, mouth lining, etc.) can lead to infection.
Rabies is not carried only by wild animals animals or furious, vicious dogs. Unvaccinated pets and livestock and apparently docile wildlife can carry and spread the disease to people and animals.
What should you do if think you have been exposed to rabies?
Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your doctor and your county health authority immediately. Try to capture the animal without damaging its head or risking further exposure.
If an apparently healthy domestic dog or cat bites a human, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for at least 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period, the animal did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite.
If a rabies-suspect biting animal cannot be observed or tested, or it tests positive for the virus, treatment must begin immediately. Human treatment consists of a dose of rabies-immune globulin administered as soon as possible after exposure. The first of four doses of rabies vaccine is given at the same time, with the remaining injections administered one at a time on days 3, 7 and 14 following the initial injection.
People in high-risk occupations, such as veterinarians, wildlife biologists, wildlife rehabilitators, animal control officers and taxidermists, should consider obtaining a rabies pre-exposure vaccination, which consists of three injections of rabies vaccine in the arm. Boosters are generally required every two years, if the risk of contact continues. A vaccinated person later exposed to rabies must receive booster injections immediately after exposure.
What animals can get rabies?
Rabies is most often found among wild mammals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. Cats, dogs, horses and livestock can also get rabies, if not vaccinated for their protection. Deer and large rodents, such as woodchucks, have been found rabid in areas affected by rabies.
Some animals almost never get rabies. These include rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters. They can get rabies, but it almost never happens.
Other animals, such as birds, chickens, snakes, fish, turtles, lizards and insects, never get rabies.
What are the signs of rabies in an animal?
The average incubation period of the virus is 3 weeks to 8 weeks, although periods of up to 1 year have been reported. The first sign of rabies is usually a change in the animal's behavior. It may become unusually aggressive or unusually tame. The animal may lose fear of people and natural enemies. It may become excited, irritable and snap at anything in its path. Or, it may appear affectionate and friendly. Staggering, convulsions, spitting, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are sometimes noted. Many animals have a marked change in voice. The animal usually dies within one week after showing signs of rabies.