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What is rabies?

Rabies is a serious disease that is caused by a virus. Each year, it kills more than 50,000 people and millions of animals around the world. 
Is rabies a problem everywhere? Rabies is a big problem in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. In the United States, rabies has been reported in every state except Hawaii.

Who gets rabies?

Any mammal can get rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, and cats can get rabies. Cattle and humans can also get rabies.  Only mammals can get rabies.  Animals that are not mammals -- such as birds, snakes, and fish -- do not get rabies. 
How does an animal get rabies? Rabies is caused by a virus.  An animal gets rabies from saliva, usually from a bite of an animal that has the disease.   You cannot get rabies from blood.
How do you know if an animal has rabies? Animals with rabies may act differently from healthy animals. Wild animals may move slowly or may act as if they are tame. A pet that is usually friendly may snap at you or may try to bite. Some signs of rabies in animals are:
  • changes in an animal’s behavior
  • general sickness
  • problems swallowing
  • increased drooling
  • aggression
Can rabies be prevented? Yes!  Rabies can be prevented by rabies vaccine and thorough cleaning of the wound. If you are bitten by an animal that could have rabies, tell your parents right away so they can clean the bite wound with soap and water and take you to see a doctor.
How can I prevent rabies?
  • Vaccinate your dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies.
  • Keep your pets under supervision.
  • Do not handle wild animals.  If you see a wild animal or a stray, especially if the animal is acting strangely, call an animal control officer.
  • If you do get bitten by an animal, wash the wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. Make sure you tell an adult and call your doctor to see if you need shots.
  • Get your pets spayed or neutered.  Pets that are fixed are less likely to leave home, become strays, and make more stray animals.

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Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch (VRZB)
Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases (DVRD)
National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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This page last reviewed February 6, 2003

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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