You get rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal, usually from a bite. The rabies virus is spread through saliva. It is not spread through contact with urine, feces, or blood of an infected animal.
You cannot get rabies by petting an animal. You may get rabies from a scratch if the animal, such as a cat, was licking its paw before it scratched you. (Remember that the rabies virus is found in the saliva of an animal).
In very rare cases, rabies has been spread from one person to another after a corneal transplant. In several instances, the cornea (part of the eye) from a person who died of rabies was transplanted to a healthy person, who then got the disease.
People have known about rabies for a long time, although the virus itself was not seen under the electron microscope until the 1960s. Rabies in animals was reported in early Babylonian, Greek, and Roman records. Rabies was likely brought to the Americas when settlers first came from Europe, bringing rabid animals with them.
A 9-year-old boy was the first person to have received an effective shot for rabies. In 1885, Joseph Meister was bitten by a rabid dog. His parents went to the famous French biologist Louis Pasteur. They begged him to help their son. Pasteur thought that if he injected a weak form of virus from one rabid animal into another, the second animal might be able to fight off the disease. He tried this hypothesis out on Joseph. The boy survived and lived a long life. That was how people starting giving shots for rabies.
After this success. other rabies vaccines were made. In the 1950s, people who had been bitten by a rabid animal got 23 shots along the abdomen. Today, the shots are more effective and less painful. They consist of a series of 6 shots given in the arm over a 1 month period. One shot is given around the bite and the rest are given in the arm.
Sean and the Raccoon
I was on a class trip to the Okeefenokee with all my 5th grade class. It was on the first day we all set up our tents and helped the teachers unpack the vans with all the food and stuff. The second day we were there we went canoeing up the river to Billys Island and back. The third day we were there we went half way up to Big Water and back. The fourth day we all hung out around the camp, then at night, a ranger came and told us funny stories, and then we went to bed. In the middle of the night I felt a sharp pain in my arm,
I looked down and saw two bite marks and some blood. I heard a rustle like something going out of my tent and saw a raccoon. I sat up and called for the teacher. We cleaned out the bite with soap, hot water, and a disinfectant. In the morning, we went to the hospital in Homerville, Georgia. At the hospital they had a shot ready to knock me out if I was too hysterical, but I didnt need it. They took me into a room where I lay there waiting for the pharmacist to get the immune globulin (one of the shots for rabies). While I was waiting for the immune globulin (one of the shots) lots of people came in and asked "are you the boy who got bit?" "Yes," I would answer. "Well, you know that you are a lucky boy because 10 years ago you had to get 26 shots in the stomach and boy did they hurt." Then they would walk away. After they put the I.V in, they gave me 2 shots of immune globulin (half was near the bite and half somewhere else), 1 shot of tetanus and the vaccine. I had to wait one hour to make sure that I did not have a allergic reaction to any of it. When I got home my parents were glad to see me. After that I got 4 more shots over a period of one month.
If you have to get the shots, dont tense up. Just relax, because it hurts a whole lot less. If you are around wild animals, dont mess with them. Just dont feed them because then later they will come back for more.
Fortunately for Sean, today we have a vaccine that works and is relatively painless. In the past, before a vaccine was available, when someone was bitten by a rabid animal, there was nothing anyone could do except clean the wound and wait to see if they developed rabies. And if they did develop rabies, they would die.
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This page last reviewed February 6, 2003
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention