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People & Rabies

How does somebody get rabies?

Rabies is spread through saliva, the wet stuff in your mouth. It´s not spread by blood, urine, or feces. If an animal has rabies and bites you - or licks its claw before it scratches you - then you could get rabies, too.

You can´t get rabies just by petting an animal with rabies.

If you´re bitten or scratched by an animal with rabies, the good news is that there are shots you can take that can keep you from getting the disease.

What happens if we get rabies?

It can take one month, two months, or even longer for you to know something is wrong. The rabies virus attaches to nerve cells, working its way through the nervous system. Eventually the virus makes its way to the brain, and by then it´s usually too late for doctors to help.

What should I do if I'm bitten by an animal?

Tell an adult right away! Have them wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes. Then have them take you to a doctor as soon as possible so the doctor can decide if you need more medical attention.

Have an adult contact your local animal control officer. If the animal that bit you is a pet like a dog, cat, or ferret, the animal may be watched for signs of rabies for 10 days. If it´s a wild animal, the animal control officer will try to catch it and then it may be killed so it can be tested for rabies.

What wild animals cause the most problems?

Bat perched in a tree

In the United States, more raccoons have rabies than other wild animals, but it is bites from bats that cause the most rabies in people.

The problem is that bat bites can be so small you might not think they are very serious and tell anyone about them. If you discover a bat in your house, especially in the room where you´re sleeping, you should act as if you were bitten and tell an adult as soon as you can. If an adult can trap the bat, then it can be tested so you will know if it had rabies.

What's the treatment?

Person getting a shot in the arm

You can get anti-rabies shots right away. There are five of them that will be given over 14 days. Two shots are given the first day; one shot goes near where you were bitten and the second in the arm. The rest of the shots go in your arm.

The shots help your body make "antibodies". An antibody is a special molecule that will attack the virus and make it harder for it to enter a nerve cell. If your body makes enough antibodies, the virus will die. The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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