The Facts: Rabies

What is rabies?
Rabies is an illness that affects the central nervous system. It is transmitted to people from infected mammals. Rabies can be prevented by avoiding exposure to infected animals. Rabies is preventable through a series of vaccinations after exposure, but it is fatal once symptoms appear. Rabies is caused by the rabies virus.

Where is rabies found?
Rabies is found in all U.S. states except Hawaii. It is also found in Canada, Mexico, and many other countries around the world. The rabies virus is passed in the saliva of infected mammals.

How do people get rabies?
People get rabies from infected mammals. Rabies is transmitted most often through animal bites, although other contact with the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal can cause the disease. Evidence suggests that rabies can also be spread by a seemingly insignificant bite from a bat with rabies, even without an obvious wound.

What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?
The rabies virus travels through the nervous system, eventually inflaming the brain. Early symptoms include irritability, headache, fever, and sometimes itching or pain at the site of the bite. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, and delirium. Without preventive treatment, it is fatal.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?
The time between exposure and symptoms is usually 2 to 12 weeks, but it can be much less or much longer.

Who is at risk for rabies?
All mammals, including humans, can get rabies.

What is the treatment for rabies?
A series of vaccinations after exposure can prevent the disease. Once symptoms appear, there is no treatment.

How common is rabies?
In the United States, rabies in humans is rare because most pets are vaccinated against the disease. Only 36 cases have been reported since 1980, 21 of them linked to bats. Each year, about 40,000 people receive treatment for bites from potentially infected animals to prevent rabies.

Rabies Resources