City of Alexandria, VA
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Domestic animals account for less than 10% of the reported rabies cases, with cats, cattle, and dogs most often reported rabid.
Human infection with the rabies virus results from direct exposure to the virus. The virus is present in the saliva of infected animals and can be passed to humans in several different ways. Rabies is usually transmitted to humans through a bite or if the infected animal’s saliva comes into contact with an open wound, a cut, a scratch, or mucous membrane (mouth, eyes, and nose).
Bats and Rabies
Most of the recent human rabies cases in the United States have been caused by rabies virus from bats. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help people protect themselves, their families, and their pets.
- If a bat is found indoors and may have had contact with someone, do not release it. Please call the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Animal Control Division at 703.746.4774 to determine if the animal should be picked up and tested for rabies.
- Have all dead, sick, or easily captured bats tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets occurs.
- Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, schools, and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Pets
Rabies cases among humans in this country are rare due to the improved rabies vaccination programs for pets and for people who are bitten. The best way to prevent the spread of rabies to humans and to pets is by keeping pets properly vaccinated, along with control of stray dogs, cats and wildlife that can carry disease.
- Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies and their shots are up to date. By law, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies.
- Do not touch or feed stray animals; call the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Animal Control Division at 703.746.4774 to have them picked up.
- Avoid wild animals, especially raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks.
- Keep wild animals out of homes by capping chimneys with screens and blocking openings in attics, cellars and porches.
- Do not handle sick, injured or dead animals.
- Teach children to avoid contact with wild animals and unfamiliar pets.
- If a bat is found indoors and may have had contact with someone, do not release it. Call the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Animal Control Division at 703.746.4774 to determine if the animal should be picked up and tested for rabies.
What To Do if Bitten
Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the bite, either. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. Washing thoroughly will greatly lessen the chance of infection. Give first aid as you would for any wound.
- If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away. Don’t try to pick the animal up. Call an animal control officer to come get it.
- It's critically important that you immediately go to the Emergency Room and explain how you got the bite and follow up with your family doctor. If necessary, the ER doctor will give the anti-rabies treatment recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Report the bite to the local health department.
- If bitten by someone else's pet get the owners contact information so Animal Control can follow up on the vaccination status of the pet.
The need for rabies vaccination should be evaluated under the advisement of your physician and/or a state or local health department official. Decisions to start vaccination, known as post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the area where the exposure occurred.