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Can people get rabies?

Cats, dogs, bats, raccoons, foxes, cows, horses, skunk, opossum, and any other mammal, including humans can get rabies. It is seldom seen in rodents. In New York State, rabies is most frequently seen in raccoons, bats, and skunks. Bats are the most common source of rabies exposure for people in the United States. For the ten-year period 1990 to 2000 there were 32 cases of rabies in humans nationwide, two of which were in NY State.

How does rabies spread?

Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system (brain and nerves). It is almost always spread by animal bite, and is always fatal to the infected animal once the symptoms are seen. It can also be spread by contact with the saliva of an infected animal, if the saliva contacts an open wound or mucous tissue. This is much less usual than transmission by bite. Rabies can be transmitted only late in the infection, and any animal capable of transmitting rabies at the time of a bite will be dead within 10 days. This is why, if someone is accidentally bitten by a domestic, un-vaccinated pet, a 10 day confinement and observation will sometimes be allowed in place of testing the animal for rabies. Testing an animal for rabies would result in the animal's death. It can be a long period of time from the exposure to the time the symptoms appear. In humans, it can be as much as from one to three months, up to a year or more from the time of infection to the time symptoms are visible.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

By the time symptoms appear it is too late to treat for rabies. When symptoms first appear they may include irritability, headache, fever, and malaise. Within a few days, these symptoms will progress to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles (occasionally causing the commonly thought of saliva drooling from the mouth), convulsions, delirium and death.

What is considered a rabies exposure that would require medical diagnosis and treatment?

  • A person bitten by a wild animal like a skunk, fox, raccoon, coyote, bat, or other wild or feral animal (cats, dogs, other carnivores) that is known to have rabies or is not available to be tested for rabies.
  • A person bitten by someone's domestic cat, dog or other carnivore, which is not available for 10 day observation or testing for rabies.
  • A person who has, or may have had contact with a bat, while unaware or sleeping, who may not know whether or not a bite or exposure may have occurred.

Is more information available?

If Nassau County residents have additional questions or concerns regarding Rabies or Animal Bites, they can call the NC Department of Health - Rabies Control Program (516-227-9663).

You can visit the following web site(s) for more information:

New York State Department of Health
US Centers for Disease Control