Rabies in the U.S.
Public Health Importance of Rabies
Trends in both human and animal rabies in the United States have changed dramatically over the last century. Approximately 5,000 animal rabies cases are reported annually to CDC, and more than 90% of those cases now occur in wildlife. However, the majority of animal cases before 1960 were in domestic animals, including dogs. The principal rabies hosts in the United States today include bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.
The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has also declined, from more than 100 annually in the early 1900’s to just one or two per year. This decline can be attributed to successful pet vaccination programs and availability of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for rabies.
In the United States today, human fatalities associated with rabies typically occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure. This is particularly common with bat bites, which can be smaller than the top of a pencil eraser.
From 1960 to 2018, a total of 125 human rabies cases were reported in the United States, with roughly a quarter resulting from dog bites during international travel. Of the infections acquired in the United States, 70% were attributed to bats.
Although human rabies deaths are rare, the estimated public health costs associated with disease detection, prevention, and control have risen. These costs include pet vaccination, animal control programs, laboratory maintenance, and medical costs.