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What is rabies?

Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease. In the United States, rabies is mostly found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. However, in many other countries dogs still carry rabies, and most rabies deaths in people around the world are caused by dog bites. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. ­-– CDC


Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start.


#1 Preventative step: Keep your pet's rabies vaccinations up-to-date.


Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination will prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby prevent possible transmission to your family or other people.

Leave all wildlife alone, including injured animals. If you find an injured animal, don’t touch it; contact local authorities for assistance.



How are rabies transmitted?

Rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact (such as through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth) with saliva or brain/nervous system tissue from an infected animal.

People usually get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. It is also possible, but rare, for people to get rabies from non-bite exposures, which can include scratches, abrasions, or open wounds that are exposed to saliva or other potentially infectious material from a rabid animal.

-- CDC

When to seek medical attention?

If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched, you should contact a healthcare or public health professional to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses. Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water and then plan to see a healthcare provider. (It’s important to know that, unlike most other animals that carry rabies, many types of bats have very small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly. If you are unsure, seek medical advice to be safe.)

Remember that rabies is a medical urgency but not an emergency. Decisions should not be delayed.  Consultation with your state or local health department – will help you decide if you need treatment known as rabies post exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Decisions to start PEP will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, whether the animal is available for testing, and laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred. 


PEP consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. 

If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death. ­-– CDC


Colder temperatures cause an increase in bat exposures inside a home. Bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in the U.S. for humans. The small teeth of a bat can make a bite difficult to find. 

After encountering a bat:

  • Safely capture the bat, if possible

  • In the event it is killed, do not freeze it; refrigeration and intact brain cells are necessary for rabies testing

  • Take the bat to your local veterinary clinic immediately to get the bat tested for rabies. 

Keep bats out of your house.

You can contact an animal-control or wildlife conservation agency for assistance with “bat-proofingexternal icon” your home, or you can take steps to bat-proof on your own.

  • Examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry. Caulk any openings larger than a dime. Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath doors to attics. Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool, caulk, or other material rated for pest exclusion. Ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.

  • If you already have bats in your home, observe where they exit at dusk. Make note of how many there are. Prevent them from coming back by loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over the areas where they exit. This lets any remaining bats crawl out and leave but prevents them from re-entering. When all the bats are gone, the openings can be permanently sealed.

    • Bat sightings may increase early in the exclusion process, as bats try to find other entrances and exits into your home. Make sure all residents and visitors are aware of the bat-proofing efforts and report any contact between bats and people or pets to your local health department.

  • Most bats leave in the fall or winter to migrate, so these are the best times to bat-proof your home. In most of the U.S., avoid bat-proofing from May through August, because you could trap young bats inside and cause them to die or to make their way into your living areas.

  • Always be mindful of local rules or laws about removing bats . Some bats are endangered and may require special care if they are found in your home.

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