Rabies is an infection that affects the brain and spine. Rabies is almost always fatal unless treated before symptoms appear.
The Nervous System
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Rabies is caused by a virus. It is found in infected, warm-blooded animals. Animals that commonly carry the virus include:
  • Bats
  • Raccoons
  • Skunks
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes
The virus is in the saliva, brain, or nerve tissue of infected animals. Humans most often contract rabies through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. The virus may also be passed if infected tissue comes into contact with skin in the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Risk Factors

The only risk factor is contact with an infected animal.In most parts of the United States, any contact with a bat may be considered a rabies risk factor. Seek medical advice if you find a bat anywhere inside your home.


Symptoms often start within 3-7 weeks. In some cases, the virus can incubate up to 1 or more years. Death usually occurs within a week after symptoms appear.Symptoms in humans may include:
  • Pain, tingling, or itching at the site of the bite wound or other site of viral entry
  • Stiff muscles
  • Increased production of thick saliva
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, fatigue, nausea
  • Painful spasms and contractions of the throat when exposed to water
  • Erratic, excited, or bizarre behavior
  • Paralysis


If you think you have been exposed to rabies, see a doctor or contact a public health official right away.If the animal is available and appears well, it will be kept under observation to monitor its health. If no symptoms develop, you are not at risk for rabies. If the animal is sick or dead, it may be examined for the presence of the virus. In the meantime, you may be advised to begin treatment.If the animal is unavailable, treatment may be given. The decision to give treatment maybe based on factors such as:
  • Animal's species
  • Where the encounter took place

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