What is rabies?
Rabies is an infection caused by a
virus. It affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) of mammals, including humans. It is nearly always
deadly if not treated before symptoms begin.
Animals that are
infected with rabies-rabid animals-can spread the disease through their saliva or through
is rare for people in the United States or Canada to get rabies. It is more common in
How do you get rabies?
People usually get rabies when a rabid animal bites them. People in the U.S. and Canada are most likely to get rabies
from bats.1 People in many other countries are most
likely to get rabies from dog bites.2, 3
raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are the animals most likely to have rabies
in the U.S. and Canada. Small mammals such as mice and squirrels almost never have
Sometimes the rabies virus can spread to pets, such as
dogs, cats, and ferrets. But household pets rarely get rabies, because most of
them get rabies vaccines. Pets that stay indoors are very unlikely to get
It?s possible to get rabies even when you don't see an
animal bite. For example, bat bites or scratches may be so small that you don't
notice them. If you or your children come in direct contact with a bat, or if
you find a bat in a closed room with a sleeping person, call your doctor right
People also can get rabies by handling animals with rabies or inhaling
the virus, but these cases are rare.
What are the symptoms?
Signs of rabies in animals
may include drooling, foaming at the mouth, or
paralysis. A pet with rabies also may behave
differently than usual, such as acting shy when the pet usually is friendly. A
wild animal with rabies may have no fear of humans.
humans begins with symptoms such as fever, cough, or sore throat. Later,
symptoms become more serious and can include restlessness,
seizures. The final stage is coma and death.
If you think you've been exposed to the rabies virus, it's very important to get medical care before symptoms begin. If symptoms appear, it?s too late for a cure, and the infection will probably lead to death. The time from exposure to the virus until symptoms appear
usually is 2 to 3 months. In rare cases, it may be shorter or much
How is rabies treated?
The treatment for someone who has been exposed to rabies is a series
of shots known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). These shots help
immune system destroy the disease in its early stages.
Getting PEP before symptoms appear usually prevents infection, and you are
likely to recover.