Date of this Version
Rabies is one of the oldest recorded diseases; yet today it remains a significant management challenge for public health officials. Over the past 30 years, rabies management has grown in complexity in the United States as a result of wild animals replacing domestic dogs as the primary reservoir for the disease. In addition, the costs of living with rabies are high and growing, exceeding $300 million per year. Addressing this significant public health problem requires expertise from a variety of sources, including public health, wildlife, and agriculture agencies. In most years since 1980, more than 90 percent of reported rabies cases have involved wild animals. Several different strains of the rabies virus are in the United States. Each strain is spread predominantly by one wildlife species, but all strains are capable of infecting warm-blooded mammals, including humans. Currently, raccoons and skunks spread most reported rabies cases in the United States, but bats, foxes, and coyotes also have a significant impact as wildlife carriers of rabies. People are almost always exposed to rabies through the bite of an infected animal. People may also be exposed if saliva from an infected animal gets into a cut or open wound or makes contact with the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. Fortunately, there is a safe, effective, postexposure treatment for rabies. However, left untreated, rabies is always fatal.