What is Rabies?

Rabies Fact Sheet

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and nervous system. It can infect all mammals and is seen mostly in bats, skunks, raccoons and other wild animals. People can also get the disease. Once a person or animal becomes sick with rabies, they will usually die.

How can I tell if an animal has Rabies?

Usually, the first sign of rabies is a change in the animal's behavior. They can become aggressive, attacking for no reason, or they may become very quiet. Wild animals can lose their fear of people and act tame. Rabid animals may walk in a circle, drag a leg, or fall over. Some cannot swallow, so they are not able to eat or drink and often drool. Animals usually die within a week after first becoming ill.

How do people get Rabies?

The virus is in the saliva of an infected animal. People get rabies by being bitten by a rabid animal or by getting saliva from the animal into an open cut or mucous membrane (nose, mouth, or eyes).

Can Rabies be treated?

Yes! If you are exposed to a rabid animal, you get one shot of rabies immune globulin and a series of five shots of vaccine. The vaccine is given in the arm. Treatment must begin soon after the exposure to be effective.

Because Rabies is a fatal disease, the goal of public health is, first, to prevent human exposure to rabies by education and, second, to prevent the disease by anti-rabies treatment if exposure occurs. Tens of thousands of people are successfully treated each year after being bitten by an animal that may have rabies. A few people die of rabies each year in the United States, usually because they do not recognize the risk of rabies from the bite of a wild animal and do not seek medical advice.

What can I do to protect by family and pets from Rabies?

How can I stop uninvited wildlife guests?

Why should I learn about bats and rabies?

Most of the recent human rabies cases have been caused by rabies virus from bats. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help people protect themselves, their families, and their pets. This information may also help clear up misunderstandings about bats.

When people think about bats, they often imagine things that are not true. Bats are not blind. They are neither rodents nor birds. They will not suck your blood - and most do not have rabies. Bats play key roles in ecosystems around the globe, from rain forests to deserts, especially by eating insects, including agricultural pests. The best protection we can offer these unique mammals is to learn more about their habits and recognize the value of living safely with them.

What should I do if I am bitten by an animal?

What should I do if I come in contact with a bat?

If you are bitten by a bat - or if infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound - wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and get medical advice immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing.

How can I safely capture a bat in my home?

If a bat is present in your home and you cannot rule out the possibility of exposure, leave the bat alone and contact an animal control or public health agency for assistance. If professional help is unavailable, use precautions to capture the bat safely, as described below. You will need:

If you see a bat in your home and you are sure no human or pet exposure has occurred, confine the bat to a room by closing all doors and windows leading out of the room except those to the outside. The bat will probably leave soon. If not, it can be caught, as described and released outdoors away from people and pets.

People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat. However, because bats have small teeth which may leave marks that are not easily seen, there are situations in which you should seek medical advice even in the absence of an obvious bite would. For example, if you awaken and find a bat in your room, see a bat in the room of an unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person, seek medical advice and have the bat tested.

People cannot get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, or at a distance. In addition, people cannot rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine, or from toughing a bat on its fur (even though bats should never be handled).

What should I do if my pet is exposed to a bat?

If you think your pet or domestic animal has been bitten by a bat, contact a veterinarian or your health department for assistance immediately and have the bat tested for rabies. Remember to keep vaccinations current for cats, dogs, and other animals.

Reporting an animal bite - have this information ready

Report all animal bites to your local health department - Trumbull County Health Dept. 330-675-2590, ext. 3.

In an emergency, call 9-1-1
In a non-emergency situation in Trumbull County, Ohio, call 330-675-2730.

How can my health department help?

Your local health department will place the biting dog, cat or ferret under a quarantine, usually at the owner's home. If the animal remains healthy during the quarantine, the person bitten was not exposed to the rabies virus. Wild animals and stray animals are usually tested. Unfortunately, this means the animal must be killed because the test is done on the brain. Your local health department can advise you and your veterinarian on how to have this done. They will also know the risk of animal rabies in your community. This may be important to your doctor if the animal is not available for testing or quarantine.

 CASE STUDY - In February 1995, the aunt of a 4-year old girl was awakened by the sounds of a bat in the room where the child was sleeping. The child did not wake up until the bat was captured, killed and discarded. The girl reported no bite, and no evidence of a bite wound was found when she was examined. One month later, the child because sick and died of rabies. The dead bat was recovered from the yard and tested - it had rabies.

This case demonstrates several points: This child's infection with rabies was most likely the result of a bat bite. Children sleep heavily and may not awaken from the presence of a small bat. A bat bite can be superficial and not easily noticed.
The bat was behaving abnormally. Instead of hiding, the bat was making unusual noises and was having difficulty flying. This strange behavior should have led to a strong suspicion of rabies. If the bat had been submitted for rabies testing, a positive test would have led to life-saving anti-rabies treatment. Remember, in situations in which a bat is physically present and you cannot reasonably rule out having been bitten, safely capture the bat for rabies testing and seek medical attention immediately.

Where can I get more information on Rabies?

You local health department will have information on rabies in your area. You can also call the Ohio Department of Health, Rabies Information line at (888) RABIES-1 or (888) 722-4371.