Rabies is an infection caused by a virus. This virus is almost always fatal unless it is treated before symptoms appear. It affects the central nervous system.

People usually get rabies through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Wild animals in the US that commonly carry the virus include bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Dogs, cats, and other domestic animals can also carry the disease. The rabies virus is found in the saliva, brain, or nervous tissue of infected animals. In the US, rabies in humans is rare. It is more common in other countries.

Rabies symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, and fatigue
  • Pain, tingling, or itching at the site of the bite wound or other site of viral entry
  • An increase in saliva
  • Seizures
  • Painful spasms and contractions of the throat when swallowing
  • Erratic, excited, or bizarre behavior
  • Paralysis

Symptoms may not appear for weeks or months after a bite.

If an animal has bitten you, wash the wound with soap and water right away. Call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

The vaccine is made from killed rabies virus. It is given by injection.