Rabies Concerns

bat flying

Although rabies among humans is rare in the United States, anyone can get rabies after an exposure to a rabid animal.

Rabies is spread when the virus in an animal’s saliva or nervous tissue (including brain, nerves, and spinal fluid), enters a person’s open cuts, wounds, mouth or eyes.

The chance rabies will occur depends on the type of contact or “exposure.”

What is a possible exposure to rabies?

Two types of exposures to rabid animals could allow transmission of the disease.

  • A bite exposure is any puncture of the skin by teeth.
  • A nonbite exposure occurs when saliva, brain tissue or spinal fluid from an animal with rabies enters any scratch, abrasion, open wound, eyes, or the mouth.

Petting a rabid animal or being exposed to its blood, urine, or feces is not considered an exposure.

What animals get rabies?

Only mammals are infected with rabies; however, some mammals are more likely to be infected with rabies virus than others.

The following animals are more likely to be infected with rabies virus:

  • Bats
  • Bobcats
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Raccoons
  • Skunks

In Southern Nevada, bats are the most likely mammals to be infected with rabies.

Domestic animals are less likely to acquire and transmit rabies virus:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Horses
  • Cattle

Some animals are not known to transmit rabies virus:

  • Rodents such as
    • Chipmunks
    • Guinea pigs
    • Hamsters
    • Mice
    • Rats
    • Squirrels
  • Rabbits and hares

How can you tell if an animal is rabid?

Although some animals with rabies look and act normal, most develop one of two forms of the disease.

  1. One form is “furious rabies” in which the infected animal is easily excited or angered.
  2. The other is “dumb rabies” in which the infected animal becomes paralyzed (has difficulty moving).

Usually animals infected with rabies become irritable, restless, and nervous. The only way to tell if an animal has rabies is to kill it in a humane manner and test its brain for the rabies virus.

How long can animals spread rabies?

Rabies in cats and dogs has been well studied by researchers, so we know that they can spread rabies starting a few days before they become ill and during their illness. The period of infectiveness is believed to be similar for wild animals.

Domestic animals infected with rabies usually die within seven days of illness onset.

What should you do if you think you might have been exposed to a rabid animal?

  • When a wild-animal bite occurs, trap the animal if possible.
    • We will often recommend euthanizing the wild animal so its brain tissue can be tested to determine whether it was rabid.
bat resting
  • If a domestic animal bites a human or pet, identify the animal, its owner, and the animal’s rabies vaccination status.
    • Contact Animal Control immediately. The biting animal should be quarantined for observation.
    • If the animal is still alive and appears healthy ten days after the bite occurred, then it was not infected with rabies at the time of the bite and therefore could not have transmitted the disease.
    • Rabies treatments are rarely necessary following bites from domestic animals.
  • Immediately wash all bite wounds and scratches thoroughly with soap and water.
  • See a doctor or call the health district as soon as possible.
  • After an exposure to a proven or suspected rabid animal, a series of preventive treatments should be started that includes human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and the Human Diploid Cell (HDCV) rabies vaccine.
    • The first medical evaluation and treatment most often takes place in an emergency department, where HRIG and HDCV are most likely to be available.

For specific advice about whether treatment is recommended, contact or have your doctor contact the Office of Epidemiology.

If you have captured a bat:

If you have captured a bat (dead or alive) that might have bitten a human or pet, call the animal control office for advice on whether/how to get it tested for rabies.

What should you do if you think your pet might have been exposed to a rabid animal?

  • Immediately wash all bite wounds and scratches thoroughly with soap and water.
  • See your veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • If your pet’s rabies vaccination is not current, he or she might be at risk of developing rabies and will need to be confined or quarantined for an extended period of time and should be vaccinated immediately.
  • Contact the animal control office to report the exposure and for additional instructions.

How can rabies be prevented?

  • Vaccination of dogs and cats against rabies is the best way to reduce human exposure.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals, and do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Control of stray animals can decrease both animal and human exposures to rabies.
  • Incidents where domestic animals have had contact with animals that might have rabies should be reported to the local animal control agency.
  • People who have contact with an animal that might be rabid should contact the health district's Office of Epidemiology.

Where can I get more information?

Contact your physician or the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology at (702) 759-1300.