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Redwood Veterinary Clinic - Santa Rosa, CA - Understanding Rabies

With all the media attention that rabies gets,  you may be surprised to learn that this disease is much less of a danger to Americans now than ever before. Thanks to widespread pet vaccinations, 100% effective post-exposure treatment, and the relative rarity of an undetected bite by a rabid animal, the number of human deaths in the United States due to rabies has declined to an average of only one or two per year (compared to 55,000 per year in Asia).

The best ways to guard against rabies:

  • Don't approach or handle wild animals, especially sick  wild animals

  • Vaccinate your pets

  • Get prompt post-exposure treatment when advised to do so by a doctor or health department


People and Rabies

People who contracted rabies in the United States were mostly infected by a bat. Most didn't even know they were bitten. Some may have been sleeping when bitten. Others handled a bat bare-handed without realizing they'd been potentially exposed to rabies. But don't panic over every bat sighting. Less than one-half of one percent of all bats in North America carries rabies.

Although raccoon suffer from rabies more than any other mammal in the United States (about 35 percent of all animal rabies cases), only one human death from the raccoon strain of rabies has been recorded in the United States.



Despite the long odds of contracting rabies, the remote possibility of infection exists and should not be taken lightly.

  • Don't approach or handle wild animals

  • Vaccinate your pets - cats, dogs, horses, etc.

  • If you see a wild animal that may be sick, contact your local animal control, veterinarian, or wildlife department for help. Don't handle sick wildlife!

  • If anyone is bitten by any wild animal, get medical advice from a doctor or health department immediately

  • If your pet is bitten by any wild animal, get medical advice from your veterinarian immediately

  • Scrub any bite wound immediately and aggressively with soap and water, use antiseptic soap such as betadine or nolvasan, if available. Flush the wound thoroughly with water

  • If anyone is bitten by a potentially rabid animal, scrub and flush the wound then go to your doctor or an emergency room

  • If possible, the animal should be captured and tested for rabies. Unless you can do it without risking further bites, leave this task to animal control professionals

  • If you find a bat in a room where someone was sleeping or where children might have had contact with him, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you assume the bat has bitten the sleeper or children and take the step for a known  bite. CDC suspects that adults may overlook and children may under report the bites of tiny bat teeth

  • Timely treatment after a bite or other exposure is 100 percent effective. The very few people who die from rabies are those who don't get timely treatment.

Interesting fact: Federal and state wildlife officials have been vaccinating wildlife in many regions over the past 15 years. They distribute vaccine-laden baits that the target animals eat and thereby vaccinate themselves. Right now, oral rabies vaccination of wildlife focuses on halting the spread of specific types of rabies in targeted carrier species. Next, it's hoped that this tool can shrink the diseases' range. 

(taken from an article written by The Humane Society of the United States)