Rabies: A Forgotten Killer

A brown bat baring its teeth

Rabies: A Forgotten Killer

Greatest Risk from Wildlife, Especially Bats

Factoid: Every 8 minutes, someone in the US is treated for possible exposure to rabies.
Factoid: Every 8 minutes, someone in the US is treated for possible exposure to rabies.
Every 10 minutes, someone in the US is treated for possible exposure to rabies.

Factoid: About 5,000 animals— mostly wildlife— test positive for rabies each year in the US.
About 5,000 animals — mostly wildlife — test positive for rabies each year in the US.

Factoid: 2 out of 3 Americans who die from rabies caught it from infected bats in the US.
Factoid: 2 out of 3 Americans who die from rabies caught it from infected bats in the US.

7 out of 10 Americans who die from rabies in the US were infected by bats.

Overview

Rabies is a virus that infects wildlife, especially bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes in the US. It can spread to people and pets when they are bitten or scratched, causing fever, agitation and death. Rabies is 100% preventable with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that includes rabies vaccine and medications to fight infection, as long as people get PEP before symptoms start. Understanding the risk of rabies and knowing what to do after contact with wildlife can save lives.

  • The best way to avoid rabies is to stay away from wildlife.
  • Contact with infected bats is the leading cause of rabies deaths in people in the US.
  • Rabid dogs outside the US are the second leading cause of rabies deaths in Americans, who are exposed during travel abroad.
  • Whether in the US or abroad, seeing a healthcare provider quickly after an animal bite or scratch can ensure people get PEP if needed.

Common carriers of rabies by location in the US.

Then & Now: Changes in Rabid Animals Reported

View Text Description

SOURCE: US National Rabies Surveillance System

Problem
People may not know about rabies.
  • Once the leading cause of human rabies deaths in the US, dogs are no longer as much of a risk, thanks to the use of rabies vaccines. Dogs are only 1% of rabid animals reported each year.
  • People might worry about rabies in animals that don’t often carry the virus, like opossums or squirrels. But these animals hardly ever have rabies.
  • People may not recognize a scratch or bite from a bat, which can be smaller than the top of a pencil eraser. But these types of contact can still spread rabies!
  • It’s not only in the woods – rabid animals can be found in people’s yards and homes too!
The Way Forward
Everyone Can:
  • Leave all wildlife alone.
  • Wash animal bites or scratches immediately with soap and water.
  • If you are bitten, scratched or unsure, talk to a healthcare provider about whether you need PEP.
  • Vaccinate your pets to protect them and your family.
  • If you find injured wildlife, don’t touch it; contact local authorities for assistance.
Healthcare Providers Can:
  • Contact local/state health departments for help with risk assessments and PEP recommendations.
  • Ask patients if they had recent animal bites or scratches.
International Travelers Can:
  • Get health recommendations for your destination: www.cdc.gov/travel.
  • Know if rabies is present in dogs or wildlife where you are going.
  • While abroad, avoid contact with all animals.
  • Seek medical care ASAP if you are bitten or scratched.

For More Information
1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636)
TTY: 1-888-232-6348
Web: www.cdc.gov

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30333
Publication date: June 12, 2019

Page last reviewed: June 12, 2019
Content source: Office of the Associate Director for Communication