Health Information

Rabies

What is rabies?

Rabies is a widespread, viral infection of warm-blooded animals. Caused by a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family, it attacks the nervous system and, once symptoms develop, it is 100 percent fatal in animals.

In North America, rabies occurs primarily in skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats. In some areas, these wild animals infect domestic cats, dogs, and livestock. In the United States, cats are more likely than dogs to be rabid.

Individual states maintain information about animals that may carry rabies. it is best to check for region specific information if you are unsure about a specific animal and have been bitten.

In the mid-Atlantic states, where rabies is increasing in raccoons, woodchucks can be rabid.

How is rabies diagnosed?

In animals, the direct fluorescent antibody test (dFA) is most frequently used to diagnose rabies. Within a few hours, diagnostic laboratories can determine whether an animal is rabid and provide this information to medical professionals. These results may save a patient from unnecessary physical and psychological trauma if the animal is not rabid.

In humans, a battery of tests is necessary to confirm or rule out rabies, as no single test can be used to rule out the disease with certainty. Tests are performed on samples of serum, saliva, spinal fluid, and skin biopsies taken from the nape of the neck.

Treatment for rabies:

Unfortunately, there is no known, effective treatment for rabies once symptoms of the illness have developed. However, there are effective vaccines (HDCV, PCEC) that provide immunity to rabies when administered after an exposure, or for protection before an exposure occurs (for persons such as veterinarians and animal handlers).