What is Rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of the central nervous system. It is most often transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected 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.
Who gets rabies?
Although rabies among humans is rare in the United States, anyone can get rabies after an exposure to an infected 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. This typically occurs through a bite or scratch.
Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt appropriate medical care. Yet, more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year - a rate of one person every ten minutes. After a rabies exposure, most humans are given rabies vaccine, although the chance that rabies will occur depends on the type of contact or exposure.
Only mammals contract rabies, which means that your pets and other domestic animals can be infected with rabies when they come into contact with rabid or infected animals. When "spillover" rabies occurs in domestic animals, the risk to humans is increased. Pets should be vaccinated by your veterinarian to prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby transmitting it to humans.
How do you respond when a potential exposure has occurred?
If you are exposed, immediately wash all bite wounds and scratches with soap and water. See a doctor as soon as possible. After and 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 your local health department office.
Testing of the wild animal is an important step in determining what treatment may be needed. Contact your animal control or local health department immediately to get the animal tested. If the animal is not available for testing, it is still important that you contact your doctor and local health department.
Any animal that has handled or been bitten or scratched by either a wild, carnivorous mammal or a bat that is not available for testing should be regarded as having been exposed to rabies.
Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal must be placed in strict isolation for 6 months and vaccinated 1 month before being released. Animals with expired vaccinations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dogs and cats that are currently vaccinated are kept under observation for 45 days.
Bats and Rabies
There are usually only one or two human rabies cases each year in the United States, and the most common way for people to get rabies in the United States is through contact with a bat.
Most bats don’t have rabies. Even among bats submitted for rabies testing because they could be captured, were obviously weak or sick, or had been captured by a cat, only about 6% had rabies.
Just looking at a bat, you can’t tell if it has rabies. Rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory. But any bat that is active by day or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen like in your home or on your lawn just might be rabid. A bat that is unable to fly and is easily approached could very well be sick.
What can you do to prevent the spread of rabies?
- Stay away from wild animals, particularly bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes
- Vaccinate your pet
- Maintain control of your pets to reduce their exposure to wildlife
- Report any stray or ill animals to animal control
Central Utah Public Health
Environmental Health Division