Rabies Home > What Causes Rabies?

Some people may wonder, "What causes rabies?" Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the brain. There are a few ways in which a person can become infected with the rabies virus, including animal bites, non-bite exposure, and human-to-human transmission. In most cases, what causes rabies infection is a bite from a rabid animal; non-bite exposure and human-to-human transmission are rare.

What Causes Rabies? -- An Introduction

Rabies 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 rabies virus in one of a few ways, including:
  • Bites
  • Non-bite exposure
  • Human-to-human transmission.
Bites from a rabid animal (an animal with rabies) are the most common way in which rabies transmission occurs. Non-bite exposure and human-to-human exposure are both rare.
(You can learn more about how rabies is contracted by going to the eMedTV article Rabies Transmission.)

What Causes Rabies? -- The Rabies Virus

The rabies virus, which is an RNA virus, is part of the family of viruses called Rhabdoviruses. Although all species of mammals can become infected with the rabies virus, only a few species are best able to spread the rabies virus to other animals. These species include, but are not limited to:
  • Raccoons
  • Skunks
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes
  • Bats.
It appears that within these animals, there are several variations of the rabies virus that can cause rabies.
(Click Animals With Rabies for more information.)
The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis in all warm-blooded animals (including humans), and without treatment, the outcome is almost always fatal.
(Click Rabies Virus for more information on the virus that causes rabies.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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