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If you believe that you have been exposed to rabies, seek medical attention immediately. Treatment is available, but must be administered before symptoms develop. If symptoms occur, there is no cure. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of the symptoms.
If you are bitten by an animal, you should seek care immediately. This will allow the doctor to assess the risk for exposure and begin treatment, if necessary.
Two decades ago, research scientists developed an extremely effective new treatment regimen that provides protection against the disease when administered after an exposure (post-exposure prophylaxis), or for protection before an exposure occurs (pre-exposure prophylaxis). One medicine used in this treatment is the rabies vaccine.
In order to make a diagnosis, the doctor will assess the risk for exposure to the virus. The following information will help the healthcare provider assess the risk:
- The geographic location of the incident
- The type of animal that was involved
- How the exposure occurred (provoked or unprovoked)
- The vaccination status of animal
- Whether or not the animal can be safely captured and tested for rabies.
If the healthcare provider strongly suspects rabies exposure, he or she will order certain tests to help in diagnosing the disease. If the animal was captured, it can also be tested.
(Click Rabies Testing for more information on tests used to diagnose the disease in humans and animals.)
No one in the United States has developed rabies when the currently recommended post-exposure rabies treatment regimen was followed. Therefore, as long as treatment begins before symptoms develop, the prognosis is excellent. When treatment is started after symptoms begin, the prognosis is poor. Death is almost certain to occur within one to two weeks.