Veterinary Division - Animal Health Programs


Veterinary Public Health Information
Dr. Maria Correa-Prisant
NC State University, College of Veterinary Medicine


Warning: There is Rabies Within City Limits in Some Areas in North Carolina.

What is rabies? Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. In the last stages of the disease, the virus moves from the brain into the salivary glands and saliva. From there the virus can be transmitted through a bite or by contact with mucous membranes (nose, mouth, and eyes). The incubation period for the disease is variable: between 2 weeks and 6 months. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms occur. Changes in behavior are common in rabid animals: nocturnal animals are seen during the day, animals are not afraid from humans, become aggressive, attack other animals or people without provocation, may have paralysis of the limbs or throat, or just lay down.

Who can get rabies? Any mammal can get rabies, including humans, dogs, cats, cows, and horses. In North America, raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, are the animals most commonly diagnosed with rabies. However, in Mexico and other Latin and Central American countries, dogs are the common carrier of rabies. Other mammals also get rabies.

How can I protect my animals and myself? The best protection against rabies is vaccination of pets and avoidance of risk. Vaccination of dogs and cats is required by law. Keep your pets indoors and maintain the vaccinations current. Consult your veterinarian about vaccination or farm animals. If your dog or cat fights with a raccoon or any other rabies carrier, saliva with the virus could be present in the wound or in the coat of your pet. Handle your pet with care: cover the pet with a towel, use gloves to handle the animal, minimize the number of people handling the pet, call animal control, and take your pet to the veterinarian. Do not feed or attract wild life to your yard, or try to capture wildlife. Call animal control or animal damage control personnel, if you suspect that there is a rabid animal in your yard. Animal controllers are trained and equipped to deal with rabid animals. Do not allow bats to live in your house attic or chimney. Remember: bats carry rabies. Although humans can be vaccinated for rabies, this is mostly done for people in high risk groups, such as veterinarians and animal controllers. However, if you are interested in vaccination, consult your physician. If you hunt, use gloves while skinning animals in particular while handling nervous tissue or organs (spine and brain for example). Avoid picking up dead or abandoned animals, and do not capture or eat animals that do not look or act normal.

What should I do if my pet gets bitten by a rabid animal? If your pet is bitten or scratched by another animal (domestic or wild), call animal control or the county health department immediately. Do not attempt to capture the attacking animal yourself. If your pet has a current rabies vaccination, a booster must be done within 5 days of the incident (in the US). If the attacking animal is captured, the brain will be tested for rabies. If your pet is not vaccinated, and the attacking animal was rabid, your pet may be disposed of as required by law. If your pet is vaccinated but has not received the booster within 5 days of the incident, unless the attacking animal tests negative, your pet will be quarantined for 6 months or disposed of by animal control. You are responsible for the cost of the quarantine and this must be done at a veterinarian's clinic. All dogs or cats that bite a person will be quarantined for 10 days.

What should I do if I am exposed to rabies? If you are bitten or scratched by a suspect rabid animal, or saliva from the animal enters an open wound, or becomes in contact with your nose, mouth, or eyes, wash the wound or contact area with soap and water, call your physician or the health department and get medical attention immediately. Remember, rabies is a fatal disease. Post-exposure prophylaxis should be started soon after the exposure. The treatment, when needed, consists of injections of rabies immune globulin on the first day and 5 vaccine doses in the arm over a 28 day period.

This fact sheet was developed by Dr. Maria Correa-Prisant, Public Health Epidemiology, 4700 Hillsborough St., College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606. Parts of this fact sheet were adapted from material provided by the State of New York Department of Health. This fact sheet was reviewed by Dr. Lee Hunter, North Carolina State Public Health Veterinarian.

March 1997, version 1 This material was developed as information only to best of the authors' knowledge. The authors are not responsible for disease or harm resulting from the use of the information in this fact sheet.



NCDA&CS Veterinary Division, Dr. Michael Martin - State Veterinarian
Mailing Address: 1030 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1030
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3250 Fax: (919) 733-2277