Rabies Home > Rabies

Rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. The virus that causes it is typically transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The principal rabies hosts today are wild carnivores and bats, but the virus can also affect pets and other domestic animals. Treatment for rabies is available, but must begin before symptoms develop. If symptoms develop before treatment begins, the disease is almost always fatal.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a preventable disease that occurs in mammals. It is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal (an animal with rabies). It affects the nervous system (including the brain) of humans and other animals.
 
Tens of thousands of people are successfully treated each year after being bitten by an animal that may have rabies. A few people die of the disease each year in the United States, usually because they do not recognize the risk when bitten by a wild animal, and do not seek medical advice.
 

Cause and Transmission of Rabies

The disease is an infection caused by the rabies virus. This virus attacks the brain, causing severe inflammation (encephalitis) and death.
 
A person or animal can become infected with the virus in one of a few ways, including:
 
  • Bites
  • Non-bite exposure
  • Human-to-human transmission.
     
A bite from a rabid animal is the most common way in which transmission occurs. Non-bite exposure and human-to-human exposure are both rare.
 
(Click What Causes Rabies? for more information about the virus that causes the disease.)
 
(Click Rabies Transmission for more information about how it is spread.)
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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