When should I seek medical attention?
Were you exposed to rabies?
- What materials can spread rabies?
- What kind of animal did you come in contact with?
- What type of exposure occurred?
- Is the animal available for testing?
The only well-documented cases of rabies caused by human-to-human transmission occurred among eight recipients of transplanted corneas, and among three recipients of solid organs. Guidelines for acceptance of suitable cornea and organ donations, as well as the rarity of human rabies in the United States, reduce this risk.
In addition to transmission from cornea and organ transplants, bite and non-bite exposures inflicted by infected humans could theoretically transmit rabies, but no such cases have been documented. Casual contact, such as touching a person with rabies or contact with non-infectious fluid or tissue (urine, blood, feces) does not constitute an exposure and does not require postexposure prophylaxis.
In addition, contact with someone who is receiving rabies vaccination does not constitute rabies exposure and does not require postexposure prophylaxis.
The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva or brain/nervous system tissue. You can only get rabies by coming in contact with these specific bodily excretions and tissues.
It’s important to remember that rabies is a medical urgency but not an emergency. Decisions should not be delayed.
Wash any wounds immediately. One of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination.
Your doctor, possibly in consultation with your state or local health department, will decide if you need a rabies vaccination. Decisions to start vaccination, known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), will be based on your type of exposure and the animal you were exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.
In the United States, postexposure prophylaxis consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Additional doses or rabies vaccine should be given on days 3, 7, and 14 after the first vaccination. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.
- Page last reviewed: April 22, 2011
- Page last updated: April 22, 2011
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