An animal that is infected with the
rabies virus can transmit it to a human. The type of
animal you are bitten by affects your chances of becoming infected with the
rabies virus. Your local health department can help you assess the risk of
rabies exposure from animals in your area.
Bats. Most cases of human rabies acquired in the
United States and Canada are associated with exposure to bats.1, 2 Sometimes the wound from a bat is
so small that it may be unclear whether a bite has occurred. Steps to prevent
rabies are always recommended after exposure to a bat, unless the animal is
tested and shown to be free of the rabies virus. If you awaken to find a bat in
the room and are not certain whether a bite or direct contact with the bat has
occurred, the animal should be tested for rabies.
Other wild animals. In the United States and Canada,
other types of wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, are
common hosts of the rabies virus. (Your local health department will have
specific information about whether these animals may be infected in your area.)
Treatment for rabies is always recommended after exposure to one of these
animals, unless it is tested and shown to be free of the rabies virus.
Rodents, such as hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, squirrels, and mice, are very
unlikely to have rabies.2
Animals that are never infected with the rabies virus include:
Reptiles and other
Animals without a spine (invertebrates,
such as insects and crustaceans).
Tame (domesticated) animals
In the United States and Canada, dogs, cats, and domestic ferrets
usually are vaccinated against rabies. The chance of getting rabies from any of
these household pets is very low. If you are bitten by one of these animals and
the animal can be confined and observed and shows no signs of rabies for 10
days, you will not need treatment.
Plotkin SA, et al. (2009). Rhabdoviridae: Rabies virus. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry’s Textbook of Pediatrics Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2494–2511. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Rabies. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 552–559. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Primary Medical Reviewer
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Current as of
August 27, 2012
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
August 27, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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