Rabies Questions and Answers

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Table of Contents

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What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease caused by the Lyssavirus family of viruses that results in encephalitis (brain inflammation.) The most common cause of rabies (and the only cause in the United States) is Rabies lyssavirus. In other parts of the world, rabies can also be caused by various species of Bat Lyssaviruses.

Are most wild animal bites from rabid animals?

Here’s the truth–the vast majority of animals that end up being tested for rabies turn out not to be rabid. For instance, in Texas in 2021, only 5% (455) of the 8686 animals tested for rabies actually tested positive for the virus. A fun fact: according to Texas’s 2021 statistics, more cows tested positive for rabies than coyotes. In 2021 there were 0 confirmed cases of rabies in coyotes and 17 confirmed cases of the virus in cows. 

Do you get rabies as soon as you are bitten by a wild animal?

No. For one, you have to get bitten by an animal who actively has rabies. The animal has to be rabid in order to transmit the virus. If the animal is simply incubating the virus, it cannot give you rabies. Additionally, rabies normally takes months to develop. At the very least, it takes a week, and at most, it can take years. Until then, you are not “rabid.”

Are opossums immune to rabies?

No, opossums are not immune to rabies. This has been a rumor that has been going around for a while and sadly it is not true. Opossums are generally resistant to rabies due to their low body temperature, but they can still contract rabies. There is still no need to be afraid of Opossums, and they are incredibly beneficial members to our ecosystems, but do not attempt to pick them up.

Can rabies be transmitted through blood?

No, rabies cannot be transmitted through blood. 

Can rabies be transmitted through urine?

No, rabies cannot be transmitted through urine. 

Can rabies be transmitted through feces?

No, rabies cannot be transmitted through feces. 

Can rabies be transmitted through scratches?

Very rarely is rabies transmitted through scratches and pre-existing open wounds. Rabies is transmitted via saliva. If you are scratched by an animal who has recently licked its paw or get licked in a scratch or other open wound by a rabid animal, it is possible to contract rabies. Most cases of rabies, however, are transmitted through bites. 

Is rabies a prion disease?

No, rabies is not a prion disease. 

Do I have rabies?

No, you do not have rabies. If you had rabies, you would not be searching on the internet to see if you have rabies. You might need to get a rabies post exposure shot, however. 

Do I need to get a rabies shot?

There are two sets of rabies shots humans can get: Rabies Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Rabies Postexposure Prophylaxis (PEP). 

If you were bitten by any animal other than animals you are sure are up to date on their vaccinations (like your cat or your friend’s dog), you must cleanse the wound and then immediately see a doctor. Your doctor will give you advice on whether or not a rabies shot is needed. Please note, you must have actually been bitten or have otherwise had rabid animal saliva get into your body in order to contract rabies. 

The CDC recommends the following groups get Rabies PrEP: People who work with rabies viruses in laboratory settings, work with bats, perform animal necropsies, hang out in caves, animal control officers, wildlife rehabbers, veterinarians and vet techs, wildlife biologists, and any other group that has a high risk of coming in contact with rabid animals. The official CDC recommendation list is here.

Can whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals get rabies?

Yes. As any mammal has the ability to contract rabies, whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals can get rabies. Although there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in whales and dolphins, there have been confirmed cases of rabid seals. The first confirmed rabid seal contracted rabies from an arctic fox bite. 


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