Definition of Rabies
Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system, that causes a fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord). The virus does not exist free in nature, is fragile in the environment and becomes inactivated in dried saliva. It is extremely unstable when exposed to UV light (sunlight), and lives less than 24 hours at room temperature. It can live in infected tissue for days in a refrigerator and for years at -30° to -80°. The virus is destroyed by soaps/detergents, formalin, phenol, 70% alcohol, halogens (iodine, nalvosan), mercurials, & other disinfectants.
What it Affects
All warm- blooded animals are vulnerable to rabies infection, including bats, skunks, dogs, cats, raccoons, livestock, humans, etc.
The source of rabies infection is usually the bite of an infected animal with the virus in its saliva. Rabies is introduced into bites, open cuts or wounds in skin or into mucous membranes (eyes, mouth). The rabies virus is carried in the saliva or other potentially infectious material such as cerebral spinal fluid or neural or brain tissue, of an infected animal and can be transmitted when the animal bites (any penetration of the skin by teeth) or scratches another animal or person or infectious material gets into mucous membranes.
The most effective means of preventing infection is immediate and thorough cleansing of the infected areas with soap & water.
NOT AN EXPOSURE: Petting an animal, coming into contact with blood, urine, or feces.
Animals that Carry Rabies Skunks and bats are the most common wild animals found to have rabies, though any mammal can carry the virus. Livestock, like cattle and horses, may be vaccinated against rabies, but may have to be tested if suspected to be rabid.
Symptoms - Warning Signs
A dog or cat that is infected with rabies may transmit the disease for several days before symptoms appear. The classification and progression of infections can be quite variable and atypical signs are often seen. An animal may exhibit any number or combination of signs. Cardinal signs are: abnormal behavior and sudden change in personality (wild animals appear tame; nocturnal animals come out in the day; friendly dogs appear vicious; vicious dogs appear friendly or playful) It is extremely important to report all animal bites.
Stages of Rabies
Onset: May not be distinguishable as rabies.
Excitative Stage: Furious Rabies
Behavior is aggressive and excitable. The animal can suddenly attack when approached.
Paralytic Stage: Dumb Rabies
Unusually shy or approachable, sluggish, confused, and/or depressed.
Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, and paralysis.
Getting your dogs and cats vaccinated is their best protection against the rabies virus. Dogs and cats should be vaccinated when they are four months old and revaccinated a year later. Vaccination shots do not last the lifetime of your pet. Revaccination is required every 1 to 3 years. In Wisconsin, all dogs are required to be vaccinated and cats must also be vaccinated.
Information on rabies and bats (CDC)
Animal Bite Algorithm (WI DHS Rabies Prevention Flowchart)
Quarantine Requirements for dogs or cats that have bitten a person