Rabies in Humans: Myths vs. Facts

With the weather finally more bearable, more families are spending time outside. While rabies probably isn’t at the top of your “things to worry about” list, it’s critical to teach your children to be cautious around animals. There are a lot of myths about rabies in humans and the signs to watch for, so in honor of World Rabies Day (September 28) here are some facts.

What is the Rabies Virus?

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system, attacking the brain and spinal cord. It is one of the deadliest diseases on earth with a 99.9 percent fatality rate. It is transmitted through saliva, most often from the bite of an infected animal. While the death rates are far higher in other countries, about one to three people die each year in the U.S. from rabies.

Myth: Rabies is usually caught from wild animals such as possums, foxes, or bats.

Fact: In 95 percent of rabies cases worldwide, the virus is passed to human populations through dogs. Of course, you should still be on the lookout for bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, possums, and coyotes.

Myth: Rabies can be cured.

Fact: There is no cure for rabies or treatment for the disease. However, there is a treatment that can be given immediately after a bite or scratch to stop the infection.

Myth: You can tell an animal has rabies just by looking at it.

Fact: You can’t know for sure just by looking. Some animals act mad or behave strangely, such as nocturnal animals being out in the daytime. Many will behave more tamely than usual and allow humans to approach. Animals with rabies are described as foaming at the mouth because they produce more saliva than usual.

What to Know

  • Teach your children not to approach any wild animal and not to touch dogs or cats they don’t know. The CDC has a page about rabies just for kids.
  • Call animal control if you see an animal behaving strangely. In Wake County, that numbers are: Raleigh: 919-831-6311 | Cary: 919-319-4517. Or learn more on their website.
  • If you are bitten, scratched, or come into contact with the saliva of a wild animal, wash the area with soap and water for at least five minutes. Then get to a hospital so you can be checked for rabies.
  • Vaccinate your dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies.
  • Keep your pets under supervision, so they don’t catch rabies. Having them spayed and neutered helps because they are less likely to stray from home.

Learn more about rabies in humans. If you are concerned you or a loved one has a possible rabies exposure, contact your doctor immediately!