Overview of Rabies

Rabies is an acute viral disease that can be transmitted from wild animals to unvaccinated pets and livestock, as well as to humans. It is caused by the rabies virus, which is present in the saliva of infected animals, and is transmitted through infected secretions (usually through the bite of a rabid animal). Once infection occurs, the virus spreads to the central nervous system and causes inflammation in the brain (acute encephalitis). Rabies is almost always fatal.

Effective pet vaccinations, postexposure treatment for humans, and effective animal control have nearly eliminated rabies in dogs in the United States. In parts of the world where vaccinations and postexposure treatment are not available, rabies remains a serious health threat for animals and for humans. Rabies kills more than 35,000 people every year, mostly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

If you see a wild animal or a stray dog or cat, do not approach the animal and do not try to determine if the animal is sick on your own. Contact your local animal control agency or police department. If you are bitten or scratched by a wild animal or a stray, immediately wash the area with soap and water for at least 5 minutes, contact a qualified health care provider, and report the incident to your local health department.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 01 Mar 2001

Last Modified: 20 Feb 2015