Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system; including the brain and spinal cord of animals and humans. Once it develops, it is nearly always fatal.
Rabies is caused by a virus in the saliva of infected animals. A person is exposed to rabies when he comes into contact with live rabies virus, generally by the bite of a rabid animal. There have been rare reports of persons developing rabies after "non bite exposures (licks by rabid animals, the air in caves invested with rabid bats, and breathing aerosolized rabies virus in the laboratory. Not all exposures result in rabies. However, because of the seriousness of infection, everyone exposed to rabies should get treatment.
All warm blooded animals, including people, can get rabies. However, the disease is mostly found in biting animals such as dogs, cats, bats, skunks, foxes, wolves, coyotes and raccoons. Rabies is present in all parts of the continental United States. It is one of the most widespread diseases known, being found in the Arctic as well as in the temperate and tropical countries of the world. It occurs in animals during any season of the year. Many cases are reported in livestock, including cows, horses, hogs, and sheep. Livestock generally contract the disease from the bites of infected wild animals, such as skunks and foxes.
The disease in wildlife, especially in skunks, raccoons and bats has become increasingly prominent in recent years, accounting for a percentage of all reported cases of animal rabies. Wild animals are the largest source of rabies infection for people and domestic animals in the United States. Wild animals are not suitable pets and may expose people to an unnecessary risk.
The incubation period is from the time the virus is introduced into the body until it reaches the brain and produces symptoms. In people, the incubation period varies from nine days to a year or more (the average is about 45 days).
The length of the incubation period is influenced by location and severity of the bite. Bites on the head and neck usually produce symptoms most rapidly.
If necessary, a dead animal may be kept on ice, double bagged in plastic until it can be tested. Always wear gloves, use a shovel and clean the area with one part bleach and 10 parts water. Keep the dead animal in a protected area away from people and other animals.
Call your County Health Authority. Have the following information ready, type and description of animal including any features or marks; if it was a pet, whether it wore a collar; tags and where it lives; how the bite occurred; whether the animal has been seen in the area before and what direction it was traveling.
If the animal is threatening people or pets; Call your local authorities, animal control officer, or Fish & Game Officer.