One Health and Disease: Rabies

Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals found worldwide that causes neurologic illness. Rabies is almost always fatal once clinical symptoms develop. More than 90% of all animal rabies cases in the U.S. occur in wildlife, and most human cases are associated with bat exposure. Rabies is preventable if medical care is given after a potential exposure.

Map showing species likely to have rabies in the United States
Map of terrestrial rabies reservoirs in the United States during 2010.

Courtesy of Center for Disease Control.

General Rabies Information

Hosts and Transmission

While all mammals can become infected with and transmit rabies, the primary hosts in the United States are:
  • Bats
  • Racoons
  • Skunks
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes
  • Feral cats

Like humans, almost all animals that become infected with rabies will die unless post-exposure treatment is given before symptoms develop. European settlers are thought to have introduced rabies to this country from pet dogs, but the disease has since spread to and is now maintained in wildlife populations.

Rabies is generally transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, either through a bite or scratch.

Signs and Symptoms

Animals infected with rabies can lose their fear of humans, seem sleepy or confused or agressive. Human symptoms of rabies can include:

  • Weakness or discomfort
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Progressive neurological dysfunction and behavior change

Preventive vaccinations and medical care can effectively prevent the illness if given before symptoms develop. Once symptoms of rabies infection begin, the infection is almost always fatal.

Prevention and Control

Rabies completely preventable in humans.

To prevent the disease while visiting the parks:

  • Enjoy wildlife from a distance;
  • Alert a park ranger if you see a sick or strangely acting animal;
  • Never touch a bat and tell park staff if a bat if found in a room;
  • Vaccinate and spay and neuter your pets;
  • Educate children about rabies, as they are most at risk.

See a physician immediately if you are bitten or scratched by any animal of unknown rabies vaccination status.

Treatment

If you are exposed to strangely-acting animals or wake up in a room with a bat, tell a park ranger so the animal can be captured and tested and consult your healthcare provider.

  • Immediately wash an animal bite or scratch wound with soap and water to decrease risk of infection;
  • Notify a park ranger and see your doctor if bitten by an animal;
  • Your doctor and local health department will decide if you need a rabies vaccination.
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NPS Graphic.

One Health and Rabies

Human impacts on the environment, including land development and climate change, are affecting habitats where wild animals live. Some of these changes to the land, air, and water promote the transmission and spread of diseases such as rabies in mammals.

By protecting natural environments and their ecological properties and processes, and by appreciating wildlife from a distance, we can help protect ourselves from rabies – this is One Health in action.

Contact

Biological Resources Division and Office of Public Health
1201 Oakridge Drive, Suite 200
Fort Collins, CO 80525

e-mail us

Related Links

For more information from the Center for Disease Control, visit their website, here.

Learn more about the One Health concept and in practice, here.

Learn more about the Biological Resources Division by exploring their organization page, here.

Last updated: March 27, 2018