What is it?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.
How is it spread?
Animal bites are the main cause of infection. In rarer cases, however, the virus is passed on by scratches or, contact between infected blood or saliva and an open wound or the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.
What kind of animals catch it?
All mammals are able to contract rabies. In Illinois, the virus is most common in bats and striped skunks. Unvaccinated dogs and cats are another high risk group.
What happens to sick animals?
Nearly all animals (including man) die once the virus infects the nervous system. People who are exposed to rabies can get vaccinations to keep the virus from spreading, but treatments must start immediately to be effective.
What are the signs?
An animal's behavior can change when it gets sick. Lab tests are needed to make a positive diagnosis, but be cautious of any animal that:
- loses fear of people, whether in an aggressive or very tame manner
- is out during the day, though it is normally nocturnal
- staggers, falls or stumbles
- has recent wounds from fighting
- has a hard time eating, drinking or swallowing. Some animals drool or "foam at the mouth" because they cannot swallow their saliva
Can the same signs show up in animals with other diseases?
Yes. Canine Distemper, is more common than rabies, can cause some of the same signs as Rabies, especially in raccoons and gray foxes. While Canine Distemper does not affect humans, you should avoid contact with any sick animal. Treat every animal bite as a risk for rabies. Your life depends on it.
What should I do if I want to avoid problems?
- Vaccinate your pets - both dogs and cats
- Do not touch or adopt wild animals.
- Call your local police or animal control agency when a stray animal shows up at your home.
- Teach kids to leave wildlife alone and to tell an adult if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.
- When left alone, pets should be kept inside your home or in a kennel.
- Do not feed wild animals or attract them by leaving food where they can get it.
- Pre-exposure vaccines are available for high-risk groups like animal control officers and wildlife rehabilitators.