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Rabies is a disease that affects the body's central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves). Rabies is caused by a virus. You may get the virus if you come into contact with the saliva or other tissue of an infected animal. Rabies infection usually happens through a bite wound. Animals that may spread rabies include dogs, cats, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats. Rabies develops when the virus enters the skin and goes to the muscles or nerves.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


Without early treatment, rabies damages the brain and other organs. You may have brain swelling, seizures, and paralysis. Rabies can be life-threatening.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Isolation safety measures

may be needed if you have an infection or disease that may be given to others. Healthcare providers and visitors may need to wear gloves, a face mask, or a gown. Visitors should wash their hands before leaving to keep from spreading germs.

A heart monitor

is an EKG that stays on continuously to record your heart's electrical activity.

Neuro signs

, or neuro checks show healthcare providers your brain function. They will check how your pupils react to light. They may check your memory and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.


  • The rabies vaccine is given to help your body make antibodies to fight the virus and help prevent rabies. The vaccine may be given before healthcare providers know that you have been exposed to rabies. It also can be given when they learn that you have been exposed to rabies.

  • Rabies immune globulin is given to attack the virus. This medicine will also help your immune system fight the infection. If you have been given the rabies vaccine in the past, you will not be given this medicine.

  • Anticonvulsant medicine is given to help control seizures.

  • Antivirals help treat a viral infection.

  • Pain medicine may be given. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you ask for more medicine.

  • Steroids help decrease inflammation.

Wound care:

If you have a bite wound, healthcare providers will clean it well and do other treatments if needed. Your risk for infection and rabies decreases if your wound is cleaned soon after you are bitten. They may close the wound with stitches.

Breathing support:

  • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

  • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.


  • A biopsy is used to test a skin sample for the cause of your symptoms. A skin sample is usually taken from the back of the neck.

  • Blood tests may show organ function or get information about your overall health.

  • A culture is a test to grow and identify the germ that is causing your illness. Samples may be taken from your saliva, tears, or fluid in the brain and spine.

  • A lumbar puncture , or spinal tap, may be done to check the fluid around your brain and spinal cord for the rabies virus.

  • A CT or MRI may be used to check for signs of swelling or infection in your brain.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.