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.
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 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 should be re-vaccinated every 3 years.
- The 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, but keep a safe distance. Do not feed or provide harborage to wildlife on your property.
- Report any bite or scratch from a domestic or wild animal to OC Animal Care 714-796-6421.
- Report dead, sick or nesting bats immediately to Orange County OC Animal Care 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 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.
Bites by animals that can carry rabies
When any warm-blooded animal breaks the skin of a human with its teeth, the human may be exposed to rabies. This is not a statement of the animal's behavior or of a person's negligence or liability, it is a public health issue for the prevention of a fatal disease called rabies.
OC Animal Care requires that the animal involved in a bite, or scratch caused by teeth, will be quarantined for 10 days. If the animal remains healthy for the 10-day period, it cannot have been shedding the rabies virus in its saliva at the time of the bite.
Types of quarantines
- Animal vs. human: When any warm-blooded animal breaks the skin of a human with its teeth, the human may be exposed to rabies.
- Pet vs. wildlife: When a pet dog/cat has come in physical contact with a wild mammal. e.g. skunk, bat, raccoon, etc.
- Government: When an animal comes into our jurisdiction from another country without an approved state rabies vaccine.
OC Animal Care enforces the State laws that require all animals involved in a bite or scratch on a human to be quarantined for a period of 10 days after the date of bite. If the animal remains healthy for the 10 day period the State of California, Veterinary Public Health Section, has advised it could not have been shedding the rabies virus in its saliva at the time of bite.
If bitten by an animal immediately wash the wound with soap and water, and contact your physician. Prevention and education are the keys to keeping you and your family safe from disease.
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.
Orange County Rabies Control Clerk