Rabies is a deadly viral disease most commonly spread through the bite of an infected animal. The virus can also be spread when saliva from an infected animal comes in contact with mucous membranes or open wounds. The animals most likely to spread rabies in the United States include bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and skunks; but the disease can also be spread by infected pets like cats and dogs. In Ohio, rabies is most often spread by bats and raccoons.
Following an animal bite, any bite wounds should be washed with soap and water as soon as possible. Animal bite victims should then consult their doctor, and report the incident to the local health department. It is important to seek prompt and appropriate medical care after an animal bite incident. If not treated, rabies is almost always fatal once the victim shows signs and symptoms of the disease.
Although it is not a common disease, there are still cases of animals with rabies reported each year. In Ohio in 2021, 194 animals tested positive for the disease. Human rabies disease is rare in the United States due to health department activities and medical treatments. The last human rabies case in Ohio was in 1970.
When a person or a pet is bitten by a wild animal or another pet, the incident needs to be reported to the health district where the bite occurred. Animal bites can spread rabies or other diseases. Reporting animal bite incidents allows the health district to take preventative measures and make recommendations for the next steps.
Rabies Control Program
Program Goal: To reduce the spread of rabies in animals, and to prevent human cases of rabies by investigating all reported animal bites.
Program Responsibility: Under Ohio Administrative Code sections 3701-3-28, 3701-3-29, and 3701-3-30, the Health District is charged with the duty to control the spread of rabies in the county. The Health District is required to investigate all reported animal bite incidents to determine the risk of rabies spread. We work with the bitten person to advise them of their next steps, including vaccine recommendations as appropriate. In cases where the person was bitten by a wild animal, we will coordinate the examination and testing of the animal if it is available. If the bite was from a pet, we will contact the animal's owner to coordinate quarantine, testing, examination, and vaccination as necessary.
- Bats and Rabies
- Know the Facts About Quarantine for Pets
- Managing Bat Encounters and Rabies Risk
- Take the Bite Out of Rabies
Report the Animal Bite to MCHD
Animal bites should be reported to the Health District within 24 hours of the incident.
For more information, please contact:
419-947-1545 ext. 325
Human rabies is 100% preventable. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself from rabies.
- Avoid contact with wild animals and animals you do not know.
- Vaccinate your animals against rabies; your veterinarian can vaccinate your pet to prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby transmitting it to humans.
- Maintain control of your pets to reduce their exposure to wildlife.
- Spay or neuter to decrease the number of stray animals.
- Eliminate food and nesting or hiding places for wild animals from residential areas.
- Do not feed wildlife. If you must feed your pets outside, bring the food in at night or keep it covered.
If you are bitten by animal:
- Wash any wounds immediately. One of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
- Call your doctor and your local health department; they may recommend that you get a series of shots commonly known as "rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)."
- If your pet fought with a wild animal, call your veterinarian and the local health department to report the incident; your animal may need to get a rabies vaccine and be isolated for a period of time.
Note: Rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is available for people working with wildlife or other animals on a frequent basis. Ask your healthcare provider if you think you need rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis.
The rabies virus is found in the saliva and brain of an infected animal. The most common way people are exposed to rabies is from an animal bite. Blood, urine, feces, and skunk spray do not contain rabies virus.
- Bite from a rabid animal.
- Scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or brain tissue from a rabid animal.
- Petting a rabid animal.
- Being in the same room as a rabid animal (bats are an exception to this rule).
- Coming in contact with blood, urine, feces, or skunk spray of a rabid animal.
Any mammal can get rabies, but the animals most likely to expose humans or other domestic animals to rabies are:
Rabies is difficult to control in wildlife reservoir species, and, private ownership of wild animals is not recommended.
Animals that are NOT considered carriers of rabies include:
- Guinea pigs*
* Small rodents and rabbits are rarely infected with rabies; therefore, it is not recommended to test these species. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis for people exposed to these species is discouraged unless a unique situation has been identified.
The early symptoms of rabies in people may mimic the flu
Signs and symptoms of rabies can include:
- General weakness or discomfort
- Discomfort or a prickling/itching sensation at the site of the bite
Symptoms can progress within days to:
- Brain dysfunction
Further progression will lead to:
- Abnormal behavior
Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal. Less than 20 documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been reported.
In addition to the risk of rabies, bite wounds can cause serious injury. Your healthcare provider will determine the best way to treat your wound.
Rabies is a medical urgency and treatment should be initiated soon after the exposure. If the biting animal is available for isolation or testing, you may not need rabies shots right away.
General suggestions for wounds:
- Wash the wound right away with soap and water or a dilute water povidone-iodine solution.
- Get a tetanus shot if you haven't had one in the last ten years.
- Your healthcare provider may suggest antibiotics and primary wound closure.
Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (also known as rabies "PEP"):
These are shots given to a person that has been exposed to a suspected rabid animal unable to be isolated or tested. Your healthcare provider or the local health department will help determine if you need to get rabies PEP.
The PEP may include:
- Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (HRIG), if you haven't received a rabies shot in the past.
- Several rabies vaccines that are given over a period of time.
Most rabies cases occur in wildlife; however, your pet can become infected if they are bitten by a rabid wild animal, including bats that enter the house. There are several things you can do to protect your pet from rabies:
- Maintain wellness visits for your pet and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date (including indoor-only pets).
- Keep pets indoors or make sure pets are under direct supervision when outdoors.
- Spay or neuter your pet to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may go unvaccinated.
- Call animal control to remove stray animals.
- Contact your veterinarian if your animal gets into a fight with a wild animal.
The rabies virus causes a brain infection in all warm-blooded animals, and the outcome is almost always fatal.
The first symptoms of rabies may be nonspecific and include:
- Not eating
Signs can progress within days to:
- Brain dysfunction.
- Nervous system dysfunction.
- Poor balance and coordination
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive salivation
- Abnormal behavior
There is no approved treatment for animals infected with rabies, and euthanasia (humane death) is recommended. Prevention is key as rabies is rare in properly vaccinated animals. Please refer to your veterinarian for rabies vaccine requirements.