Rabies is a disease caused by a virus (Lyssavirus) found in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to other warm blooded animals, including humans by a bite, scratch or possible by contamination of an open cut. Deadly and costly, rabies ranks as one of the top zoonotic diseases in the United States and the world.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system (CNS), causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
Rabies is a preventable disease. Modern day prophylaxes have proven nearly 100% successful. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they are unaware of their exposure. Over the last 100 years, rabies in the United States has changed dramatically. More than 90% of all animal cases reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now occur in wildlife; before 1960 the majority of cases were reported in domestic animals. The principal rabies hosts today are bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. The decline in cases of domestic animals is attributed to animal control programs and vaccination of companion animals.
How you can help
Prevention and education are the keys to keeping you and your family safe from the disease. Listed below are ways to prevent exposure
Vaccinate your pets. Dogs are required to be vaccinated for rabies at 4 months of age. Cats can be vaccinated as early as 8 weeks. The first rabies vaccine is effective for 1 year, then your pet should be re-vaccinated every 3 years.
The OC Animal Care Center provides low cost Rabies Clinics on the first Tuesday of each month, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Contact your local veterinarian who may offer low cost vaccination clinics. Low cost clinics may also be available at local pet centers.
Teach your children to respect wildlife by keeping a safe distance. Do not feed or provide harborage to wildlife on your property.
Report any bite or scratch caused by teeth from a domestic or wild animal to OC Animal Care at 714-796-6421.
Report dead, sick or nesting bats immediately to OC Animal Care at 714-935-6848. Do not attempt to confine the animal.
Rabies is a public health issue because it is a viral disease that is fatal in mammals, including man and domestic pets (dogs, cats, livestock). It is transmitted by the bite or scratch caused by teeth of an infected animal through their saliva. Rabies is preventable in domestic animals through routine vaccination, but is not curable after the onset of symptoms.
Questions or Further Information
If you have any questions regarding animal bites or rabies contact your local health department or the Orange County Rabies Control Desk at (714) 796-6421 Monday through Friday or 714-935-7158 after 5:30 PM daily and on weekends.