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Rabies -- United States, 1981

In 1981, there were 7,211 laboratory-confirmed cases of animal rabies reported in the United States and its territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands).

Forty-eight states and Puerto Rico reported rabid animals in 1981; only the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Vermont, and Virgin Islands reported no cases.

Seven types of animals accounted for 97% of all reported cases: skunks, 4,480 (62.1%); bats, 858 (11.9%); raccoons, 481 (6.7%); cattle, 465 (6.4%); cats, 285 (4.0%); dogs, 216 (3.0%); and foxes, 195 (2.7%). Wild animals accounted for 85% of the reported cases, and domestic animals 15%. Two cases of human rabies were reported in 1981 (1,2).

Bats and skunks continue to be the most widely distributed vectors, with confirmed cases caused by these two species in 46 states and 32 states, respectively. Raccoon rabies has become well established and is spreading in areas of northern Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland (3). Virginia reported 102 cases of raccoon rabies in 1981, an increase of 1,350% over 1980 when seven cases were reported. West Virginia reported 22 cases of raccoon rabies in 1981, and Maryland reported six cases, all from a single county that borders on northern Virginia. Reported by Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Br, Div of Viral Diseases, Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Reports of documented animal rabies have more than doubled in the United States in the last 3 years: 3,298 cases for 1978 and 7,211 cases for 1981. In 1981, for the first time, rabid cats outnumbered rabid dogs--by 32%.

More cases of skunk rabies and bat rabies were reported in 1981 than ever before. This substantial upsurge in rabies activity underscores the importance of efforts aimed at prevention and control. Vaccination of pets and livestock is the most effective control measure in preventing disease and subsequent human exposure.


  1. CDC. Human rabies--Oklahoma. MMWR 1981;30:343-4,349.

  2. CDC. Human rabies acquired outside the United States from a dog bite. MMWR 1981;30:537-40.

  3. CDC. Rabies in raccoons--Virginia. MMWR 1981;30:353-5.

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