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

Early signs and symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of rabies may appear weeks, months, or even years after the infection. During the early stages of rabies, you may feel like you have the flu. You may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms for up to 10 days:

  • Weakness, fever, headache, and irritability
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
  • Pain, numbness, or burning or tingling that may slowly spread to other areas
  • Severe itching at the bite site

Late signs and symptoms:

Over time, rabies may affect the brain. Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Confusion or insomnia
  • Dizziness, seeing double, or seeing something that is not really there
  • Restlessness, anxiety, and hyperactivity increased by thirst, fear, light, or noise
  • Seizures or twitching
  • Slurred speech, drooling, swallowing problems, and a fear of water
  • Tiredness, muscle cramps, or trouble moving
  • Severe weakness that may be only on one side of the body or face

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have trouble swallowing or slurred speech.
  • You have double vision, or you see things that are not really there.
  • You begin twitching, have muscle cramps, or have a seizure.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You think you were exposed to rabies.
  • You were bitten by an animal.
  • You feel weak, tired, dizzy, confused, restless, or anxious.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your signs and symptoms do not get better after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about rabies and rabies treatment.


The main goal of treatment is to prevent the virus from spreading inside the body. Treatment as soon as possible may prevent more serious problems and increase recovery.

  • Clean the bite wound. Use a povidone-iodine solution mixed with water. Use soap and water if the iodine solution is not available. Your risk for infection and rabies decreases if your wound is cleaned soon after you are bitten. Healthcare providers may need to close the wound with stitches.
  • You may need to get the rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine helps your body make antibodies to fight the virus and helps prevent rabies. Ask for more information about the rabies vaccine.
  • Rabies immune globulin medicine may be given. If you have been exposed to rabies, you may be given rabies immune globulin to attack the virus. This medicine will also help your immune system fight the infection. You will not be given this medicine if you have been given the rabies vaccine in the past.
  • Medicines may be given to help control seizures, treat a viral infection, or decrease inflammation. You may also be given prescription pain medicine. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

What to do if an animal bites you:

Clean the bite wound well and cover the wound with a clean bandage. Then contact your healthcare provider.

Prevent rabies:

  • Ask your healthcare provider about the rabies vaccine. You may need the vaccine if your work puts you at risk for rabies. You may also need the vaccine if you plan to travel to places where the risk for rabies is high. Ask for more information on rabies shots.
  • Avoid contact with animals. Do not approach any tame or wild animal that you do not know. Do not try to take them home with you. Cover windows and other openings in your home with screens so wild animals cannot get inside.
  • Get medical care if you get bitten by an animal. Do this even if the wound is very small.
  • Get your pet vaccinated against rabies. You will need to do this every 3 years or as directed by your veterinarian.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.