• By Sarah Frantz, MPH, CHES
  • Posted Thursday, September 28, 2017

What Should I Know About Rabies?

What is rabies?
Rabies is a virus that infects the brain and spinal cord of mammals, including humans. It is almost always fatal, and there is no cure for rabies.

How is rabies spread?
People and animals can be infected with rabies when they are bitten by an animal that is sick with the rabies virus. Rabies may change normal animal behavior, so they might be more likely to bite. Rabies can also be spread when infected saliva or spinal tissue comes in contact with an open wound or bite on a person or animal.

Which animals can spread rabies?
More than 90% of all animal rabies cases reported to CDC each year occur in wild animals. The main wild animals that get rabies include raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats.Domesticated animals that can get rabies are dogs, cats, and ferrets.

What are the symptoms of rabies in animals?
There are many symptoms of rabies in pets. If they experience any of the following, be sure to take them to a veterinarian.

  • Loss of appetite, or difficulty eating or drinking
  • More quiet than usual, increased aggression or difficult behavior
  • Barking or meowing differently than usual
  • Drooling excessively
  • Biting a wound where they were bit by another animal
  • Overreacting to light, touch, or sound
  • Becoming partially or totally paralyzed
  • Not walking correctly, staggering, or falling
  • Scared of water

What are the symptoms of rabies in humans?
The first symptoms of rabies in humans can be similar to the flu: headaches, fevers, or general discomfort or weakness. There may also be a prickly or itchy sensation around the bite area. If left untreated the disease can progress and will become fatal. There is no cure for rabies.

How can rabies be treated?
There is no cure for rabies and it is almost always fatal. It is better to prevent the disease because it cannot be cured.

How can I prevent rabies?
You can avoid getting rabies by making sure your pets are current on their rabies vaccination. Avoid animals you do not know or those that are in the wild, sleeping, injured, eating, or caring for their young. Leave wild animals alone. Prevent wildlife from being in human spaces by keeping garage or storage doors closed and keeping trash can lids secure.

What should I do if an animal bites me?
If an animal bites you, wash the wound immediately with soap and water and seek medical attention. Report the bite to Forsyth County Department of Public Health or Forsyth County Animal Control. The animal may need to be captured for testing or quarantine before you are treated.

Can rabies be prevented in my community?
YES! By making sure your domestic animals are vaccinated, you can help stop the transmission of rabies in the community. Leave wild animals alone, and keep your pets up to date on vaccinations.

For more information and resources on the rabies virus and preventing rabies infection, please visit the following:

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

Forsyth County Animal Control

World Health Organization (WHO)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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