Rabies is a deadly viral infection that is mainly spread by infected animals.
Rabies is spread by infected saliva that enters the body through a bite or broken skin. The virus travels from the wound to the brain, where it causes swelling, or inflammation. This inflammation leads to symptoms of the disease. Most rabies deaths occur in children.
In the past, human cases in the United States usually resulted from a dog bite, but recently, more cases of human rabies have been linked to bats and raccoons. Although dog bites are a common cause of rabies in developing countries, there have been no reports of rabies caused by dog bites in the United States for a number of years due to widespread animal vaccination.
Other wild animals that can spread the rabies virus include:
Very rarely, rabies has been transmitted without an actual bite. This is believed to have been caused by infected saliva that has gotten into the air.
The United Kingdom had once completely eradicated rabies, but recently, rabies-infected bats have been found in Scotland.
Rupprecht CE, Briggs D, Brown CM, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Use of a reduced (4-dose) vaccine schedule for postexposure prophylaxis to prevent human rabies: recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010 Mar 19;59(RR-2):1-9. Erratum in: MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010 Apr 30;59(16):493.
Bassin SL, Rupprecht CE, Bleck TP. Rhabdoviruses. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 163.
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