Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus. The virus is found in the saliva of a rabid animal and can be transmitted by a bite, or possibly by saliva contamination of an open cut or the eyes.
Left untreated, rabies attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and is almost always fatal.
Any warm-blooded mammal can get rabies, including humans! Rabies most often occurs in wildlife, especially in raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs, and foxes. Farm animals, dogs, cats, and ferrets can also become infected, so you should take measures to keep wild animals from entering houses, barns, and garages. Rabies is rarely found in squirrels, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, opossums, chipmunks, rats, and other small rodents.
In the early stages of the disease, it can be difficult to tell if an animal has rabies. Some of the early signs include a change in behavior. For instance, a normally friendly domestic animal may become aggressive. Wild animals that are usually nocturnal and stay hidden may come out in the daylight and approach people. Staggering, drooling, or even paralysis may be experienced by a rabid animal. It is important to remember that an animal with rabies may be infected and able to spread the virus without showing any signs of the disease.
Never touch a bat (dead or alive) with your bare hands. If you must pick up a dead bat, wear thick gloves! To safely capture a live bat, call Animal Services at (919) 560-0900.
Whenever there has been a human exposure to a bat, the bat should be safely captured and sent for rabies testing. If there has been a human exposure to a bat, and the bat is not available for testing, contact your medical provider immediately. In these situations, prompt treatment is recommended.
The most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to make sure they are vaccinated. Other things to remember include the following: Never approach, handle, or feed wild or stray animals; don’t leave pets outside unattended or allow them to roam free; cover garbage cans and don’t leave pet food outside, as this may attract wild and stray animals; and teach your children to stay away from wild animals or animals they do not know.
There is no simple blood test that can be done to check your pets for rabies. The only way to test an animal for rabies is to test the animal’s brain tissue. That means the animal must be dead before testing is done.