The Truth About Rabies

One of the largest fears people have regarding dog bites is “Will I get rabies?”  Learn the truth about rabies and your Illinois Dog Bite Case and how you can keep your pet from getting rabies.

The Truth About Rabies and Your Illinois Dog Bite Case

One of the largest fears that people have regarding dogs bites is “Will I get rabies?”

The Answer: It is highly, highly unlikely

Rabies is a bullet-shaped virus that encompasses three distinct variations. The rabies virus grows within the saliva glands of the infected animal, while it infects and attacks the host’s brain. Given that the virus prefers the saliva glands, rabies spreads from bites, passed between mammals. Usually it is passed from animal to animal, but it can also pass from animal to person (we are mammals too). The primary carriers of the rabies virus are raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats.

No one can tell if an animal has rabies simply by looking at it. However, animals infected with he rabies virus may exhibit certain behaviors such as acting overly aggressive, excessive drooling, or acting unusually tame (in the case of an ordinarily wild animal). The aggressive nature exhibited by some animals is where the virus gets its name – a derivative of the Latin word rabere – “to rage.” In popular culture, rabid animals foam at the mouth and snarl menacingly. Excessive drool from the saliva glands is common, but the animal will not foam at the mouth. Moreover, it is more common for a rabies infected skunk, fox or raccoon to calmly approach humans than to act aggressively. This should trigger alarm bells, as these are wild animals that are normally afraid to approach humans.

Warning Signs of Rabies


Signs of Rabies In Animals

  • Acting sickly
  • Overt Aggressive in a normally tame animal
  • Tameness in a wild animal that is normally afraid of humans
  • Animals that are biting or lunging at everything
  • Excessive drool
  • Trouble swallowing and an unwillingness to drink water

Signs of Rabies Infection in Humans

  • It can take up to three months for symptoms of a rabies infection to show in a human being.
  • Early symptoms are: fever, headache and a sore throat
  • Exhaustion
  • Pain and tingling at the bite wound
  • Hallucinations
  • Paralysis
  • Unwillingness to drink or a tightening of the throat muscles when trying to drink

In certain areas of the world, rabies is a very real, very dangerous threat. According to the Center for Disease Control, 55,000 people around the world will die from rabies this year. That being said, the chances of you contracting rabies from a dog bite are very low. In fact, rabies is extremely lethal in human beings.

Given that dogs run into raccoons and skunks all of the time, and are often bitten by these animals, many people are surprised that a dog bite almost never transfers rabies to a human. The answer is simple: the rabies vaccine. In almost every county of almost every state, all dogs are required to receive a rabies vaccine in order to be licensed by their owners. When puppies are born, they are scheduled with a number of shots as part of their growing process – one of these is the rabies vaccine. When a stray dog is picked up, it is tested for the vaccine, and it it had not been inoculated, the shelter will give it the vaccine. Simply put, almost every dog in the United States has been given the rabies virus to protect them from encounters with raccoons and foxes and other carrier wildlife. Since the dogs do not have rabies, they cannot transmit to humans through a dog bite.

This does not mean that every dog cannot get rabies – they must have been given the vaccine. The bottom line: with so many dogs receiving the rabies vaccine, the truth is that you probably will not get rabies from a dog bite. You should still get tested at the hospital, just to be safe. However, you should be very concerned about like MSRA, regular Staphylococcus (Staph), or any other germs and bacteria that can enter your body through the open wound.

Quick Facts About Rabies

  • You are more likely to contract rabies from a skunk or raccoon than a dog.
  • Bats are the species most likely to carry the rabies virus.
  • Rabies has been reported in every state of the United States, except Hawaii
  • Rabies can be passed from any mammal to another
  • Rabies virus is only passed through saliva, not blood
  • In the United States, dogs account for less than 5% of all rabies cases


How to Prevent Rabies Infections for You and Your Pet

While finding a rabid dog in the United States is unlikely, there are steps you can take to further prevent the spread of the rabies virus.

  • Vaccinate your dogs and cats against the rabies virus. Consult your veterinary about other household pets that may spend time outside.
  • Supervise your pets when they are outside and keep them away from wild animals like raccoons, skunks and foxes.
  • Never approach a wild animal, regardless of how “friendly” it is acting. This might be a sign that is is carrying rabies. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, call your police department or the animal control department.
  • If you are bitten by an animal, follow our After Dog Bite Guidelines, wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes and see a doctor right away.
  • Spayed or neutered your pets. They will be less likely to wander away from home, other animals will be less likely to wander into your yard, and there will not be any unexpected litters of puppies or kittens that could escape getting the vaccinations.

A helpful video that outlays many of the issues surrounding rabies. Please note that this video is published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and was not created by nor is maintained by the BiState Injury Law Center.