A to Z
Data &
Forms &
News &
Licensing &
Rules &
Public Health
Fact Sheet: Rabies

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system. It is transmitted from infected mammals to man and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear. Fortunately, only a few cases are reported each year in the United States.

Who gets rabies?

All warm blooded mammals, including humans, are susceptible to rabies. While rabies in humans is very rare in the United States, the most common source of human rabies in the U.S. is from bats.

Learn about the risk of rabies from bats.

How is rabies spread?

Rabies is almost always contracted by exposure to a rabid animal. The exposure is usually through a bite, but saliva contact to your eyes, nose, mouth or open wound is also a possible route.

What can be done to prevent the spread of rabies?

Exposure to rabies can be minimized by taking the following actions:

  • Vaccinate all pets
  • Stay away from all wild animals, especially those that appear sick or injured
  • Never handle bats

What are the symptoms of rabies?

Early symptoms include irritability, headache, fever and sometimes itching or pain at the site of exposure. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium and death.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?

The incubation period in humans is variable but is normally two to eight weeks. Incubation periods of over one year have been reported.

When and for how long is a person able to spread rabies?

Person to person transmission is extremely rare, however, precautions should be taken to prevent exposure to the saliva of the diseased person.

What is the treatment for rabies?

Treatment requires prompt scrubbing of the bite site, followed by the administration of rabies immune globulin (dosage dependent on weight) and five doses of human diploid cell rabies vaccine administered in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, 14 and 28 after exposure.

What happens if rabies exposure goes untreated?

Exposure of a person to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If preventive treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, most cases of rabies will be prevented. Untreated cases will invariably result in death.

Issued by: Oregon Public Health Division
Date: July, 1996; Updated December, 1999

    Return to top