Rabies (cont.)

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How is rabies transmitted?

Almost every person who gets rabies has the virus transmitted to them by the bite of an infected animal. The transmission of rabies from human to human is rare; the highest number recorded happened when corneal transplants that were unknown before transplant to contain rabies virus caused rabies in eight patients. Aerosols of infected saliva or bat guano may also transmit rabies. In developing countries, the majority of people are infected by rabid dogs. Rabid dogs are often aggressive and sometimes are drooling, but in other cases, they act very withdrawn.

Picture of a rabid dog drooling saliva onto teeth and lower lip.
Figure 3: Rabid dog drooling saliva onto teeth and lower lip. SOURCE: CDC

In underdeveloped and developed countries, there are a number of animals that can transmit rabies to humans. Bats, foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, cats, wolves, opossums, and other animals are some of the prevalent wild or feral animals that may become infected. In Mexico, cows have become infected from bat bites and can transmit the virus to humans via a bite or saliva if the human skin is abraded or cut. Currently, in the U.S., bats and raccoons cause the most bites that may lead to rabies. Readers should note that drooling saliva is not always present in wild or domestic animals with rabies. Any animal (domestic or wild) that acts strangely (for example, unusually aggressive or docile, unusual gait, has seizure-like activity) should be suspected of having rabies. Animals that are active at night (for example, raccoons, skunks and bats) may become active during the day; this daytime activity may be a sign of a rabies-infected animal.

High-risk animal contacts for transmission of rabies are bats, raccoons, fox, skunks, and feral cats. Lower-risk animals are dogs, cats, coyote, deer, bear, horses, cattle, pigs, and other non-rodent wild animal species. The disease is almost never contracted from squirrels, rats, mice, or rabbits.

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