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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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