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Is rabies a common disease?

In the United States in 2001, there were 7,437 cases of rabies reported in animals. Most were in wild animals.  One case was reported in a human.   Rabies occurs in almost every state. Hawaii is the only state that has not had a single native  case of rabies in animals or humans.

As you can see by this map, rabies is most common in the eastern United States.

US map showing all cases of rabies reported in 2001

To see the number and types of rabies cases for a particular state, click here. Map of United States
Humans and rabies

Most of the human deaths in this country since 1980 were caused by a strain of rabies associated with bats. The number of deaths is small because people who are bitten by animals often get the anti-rabies shots. As many as 40,000 people each year in the United States are  exposed to animals that might have rabies, and these people receive the shots to prevent the disease.

The number of human rabies deaths is low in the United States compared with the rest of the world. Each year, about 30,000 to 50,000 people in the world die of rabies. These deaths occur because people did not get vaccinations after being bitten by a rabid animal. Many occur in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Millions of people around the world get the anti-rabies shots after an animal bite. Dogs are the biggest source of animal bites leading to rabies shots worldwide.

Rabies in Animals
In the United States, rabies in domestic animals (like dogs, cats, and cattle) has declined dramatically since the 1950s. This decrease is mainly due to rabies vaccination programs. Today, pet ferrets can also be vaccinated against the disease. However, overall rabies cases in the United States have been increasing since the 1970s. This is mainly because of outbreaks of rabies among wildlife. 

Cases of animal rabies reported from 1955-2001

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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

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