Any mammal can get rabies. In the United States, cats, cattle, and dogs are the most commonly reported rabid domesticated animals. The most common wild animals that get rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes.
Rabies is passed in the saliva of an infected animal, usually when the animal bites another animal or a person. Rabies is caused by a virus that travels along the nerves from the site of the bite to the brain, and then into the salivary glands. With late treatment or no treatment, rabies is almost universally fatal to animals and humans.
Vaccinating pets such as dogs and cats is vital for both the animalís health and the ownerís health. A dog that gets into a fight with a rabid raccoon or skunk is covered with that animalís saliva. Unvaccinated dogs with such exposure are often euthanized or kept in quarantine for six months. Even vaccinated pets are watched closely for 45 days.
The International Society of Infectious Diseases reported ten different animal/human contacts with rabies in the US during September 2010, including:
* In Minnesota a rabid dog (one of 41 rabid animals found in just nine months including three cows) was euthanized, and eight people who had contact with the dog had to get rabies shots.
* In Georgia, a college student picked up a sick bat crawling on a sidewalk. The bat tested positive for rabies and the student had to be treated.
* A dog in North Carolina carried a dead raccoon home that tested positive for rabies. The dog had never been vaccinated and the county health authorities euthanized it.
* A cat in Texas brought home a dead bat that tested positive for rabies. The cat had been vaccinated.
Anyone who has contact with an animal proven to have rabies must be treated. Todayís treatment for rabies exposure starts with a dose of human rabies immune globulin injected into the bite site, followed by four doses of rabies vaccine injected into the upper arm.
Be sure to tell children to stay away from stray animals, and to never touch a sick animal, such as a bat or raccoon. Report wild animals that with unusual behavior the health department; for example, nocturnal animals out during the day, or shy animals such as foxes showing aggression. Make certain your own animals are up-to-date with their rabies vaccinations. And most importantly, immediately wash any animal bite thoroughly with soap and water, and seek medical care without delay. Rabies can be prevented if treated in time.
For more information: www.cdc.gov/rabies/