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What is rabies?
Rabies is a disease of the nervous system caused by a virus.
It usually results from a bite or contact with an animal with
Although rabies among humans is rare in the United States, anyone
can get rabies after an exposure to a rabid animal. Rabies is
spread when the virus in an animal's saliva, or other body fluid,
enters a person's open cuts, wounds, mouth, or eyes. The chance
rabies will occur depends on the type of contact or "exposure."
What is an
exposure to rabies?
There are two types of exposure (bite and non-bite). A bite
is any puncture of the skin by teeth. A non-bite exposure is
more difficult to define. Anyone who has any contact with a
rabid animal should contact their doctor or public health immediately.
Only mammals are infected with rabies, however, some mammals
are more likely to be infected with rabies than others. For
example, skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes, coyotes, and bobcats
are more likely to be infected. All domestic animals such as
dogs, cats, horses, and cattle can be infected. Small rodents,
(such as squirrels, chipmunks, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats,
and mice) rabbits, and hares almost never get rabies and have
not been known to cause rabies.
How can you
tell if an animal is rabid?
Although some animals with rabies look and act normal, most
develop one of two forms of the disease. One form is "furious
rabies" in which the infected animal is easily excited
or angered. The other is "dumb rabies" in which the
infected animal becomes paralyzed (has difficulty moving). Usually
animals infected with rabies become irritable, restless, and
nervous. If the animal in question is a dog, cat, horse, cattle
or sheep, it can be quarantined for 10 days to see if it becomes
symptomatic. If symptoms do develop, then the only way to tell
if the animal has rabies is to kill it in a humane manner and
test its brain for the rabies virus.
can animals spread rabies?
Cats and dogs can spread rabies up to 10 days before they become
ill, as well as during their illness. The amount of time varies
for other animals. For specific recommendations following an
exposure, contact your doctor or public health.
What should you do if you are exposed to a rabid animal?
Immediately wash all bite wounds and scratches with soap and
water. See a doctor as soon as possible. After an exposure to
a proven or suspected rabid animal, rabies shots should be started
as recommended by your doctor. For specific advice about receiving
treatment contact a doctor or public health.