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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 2, 2024.

What is rabies?

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

What increases my risk for rabies?

Rabies can affect anyone, at any age. The following may increase your risk:

What are the early signs and symptoms of rabies?

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 for up to 10 days:

What are the late signs and symptoms of rabies?

Over time, rabies may affect the brain. You may have any of the following:

Rabies Signs and Symptoms

How is rabies diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask if you have been bitten by an animal and how the animal behaved before it bit you. He or she will ask about vaccinations you have received, and your past travels. You may need any of the following tests:

How is rabies treated?

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.

What can I do to prevent rabies?

Rabies Sources, Prevention, and Treatment

What should I do if an animal that can carry rabies bites me?

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone else call if:

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Learn more about Rabies

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.