Rabies: It's Not Just In The Wild

What Is It?

Rabies is a virus-induced neurological disease that can infect all warm-blooded animals, including humans, and with rare exceptions it is a fatal disease. Except for a few island countries and states, the distribution of rabies is worldwide.

As stated previously, all species of warm-blooded animals are susceptible to infection with rabies virus, although some species are more resistant than others. Dogs, cats, horses, sheep, goats, non-primates, and humans are intermediate in susceptibility to rabies. Wild animas are the primary reservoirs (carriers) for rabies in many parts of the world. The major wildlife species presently responsible for the maintenance of rabies in the Unites States are, in order of importance, skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes. Bat rabies is endemic (recurring disease) in most states, and bats have accounted for five of the seven rabies cases reported since 1980 within the US. However, domestic pets tend to be the principal source for transmission of rabies for humans.

When rabies in dogs and cats is controlled, the occurrence of rabies in humans is reduced to a very low level. In the US, cases of human rabies have paralleled the decline in rabies vaccination programs for dogs and cats beginning in the 50's. Human rabies of canine origin acquired in the US has not been documented since 1979. In humans, the disease has two common forms (characterized by hydrophobia [throat spasms] with episodes of agitation and anxiety) or the less common paralytic form. Rabies should be considered in any person with a rapidly progressive encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) of unknown etiology, particularly in patients who live in rabies prone areas or have had exposure to recognized reservoirs of the disease.

How Is Rabies Spread?

Infection occurs primarily by infected saliva from a rabid animal coming in contact with nerve endings or damaged nerve fibers as a result of a bite from a rabid animal. Contamination of a fresh wound with saliva containing rabies virus or rabies virus contacting the cornea of the eye or nasal membranes can also result in rabies transmission.

How Is Rabies Diagnosed?

To accurately determine if a person has been exposed to rabies the animal inflicting the bite should be euthanised and its brain examined for the presence of rabies virus. If you are bitten by a healthy dog or cat that is a pet, the animal can be confined for ten days of observation after the bite for signs of rabies. If the dog or cat remains healthy for ten days after the bite, the person was not exposed to rabies. Therefore, all biting animals except owned, healthy dogs and cats should be euthanised immediately after the bite and examined for rabies virus to determine if the person was exposed. If rabies virus is not identified in the animal's brain, the person was not exposed. If the brain is positive for rabies virus, post-exposure immunization should be initialed as soon as possible since there is no safe waiting period before the treatment is started.

What Is The Treatment For Rabies?

For persons who are not immunized against rabies, the treatment consists of local wound management followed by administration of human rabies immune globulin; up to half the dose is infiltrated at the site of the bite wound (if feasible) and the rest is given intramuscularly (gluteus). At the same time, a one(1) ml dose of Human diploid cell vaccine (HDCV) is given intramuscularly (deltoid) and is repeated at days 3,7,14, and 28 after the first dose.

For individuals who have received pre-exposure vaccine administer two booster doses of HDCV, one immediately and one three days later. Rabies immune globulin should not be given in this case.

What Are The Preventive Measures For Rabies?

If your work involves contact with wild animals, stray cats or dogs, bats, or contact with fluids or tissues collected from these animals, pre-exposure immunization is recommended. Pre-exposure immunization consists of primary immunization with a three-dose series of HDCV given on a schedule of days 0, 2, 21, or 28. Boosters are recommended at approximately 2-year intervals to maintain immunity.

If you would like further information regarding Rabies, please call University Health Services at 448-5630.


A part of the above webpage was taken from:
Vanderbilt Graphic

Printer Friendly Page

Crisis Information

Information about what to do in case of various emergencies.

Contact UHS

910 Madison Ave. Suite 922
Memphis, Tennessee 38163
Phone: 901-448-5630
Fax: 901-448-7255

Online Portal for Refill Requests and Other Functions

Contact Us

University Health Services
910 Madison, 9th floor
Memphis, TN 38163

Appointments/General Questions

Please call: (901) 448-5630

Emergency After Hours Provider Access: (901) 541-5654

Fax: (901) 448-7255


Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Closed daily between 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.