Rabies is a severe viral disease of the central nervous system. In the United States, rabies is chiefly a disease of wild mammals, but it can occasionally affect humans. Animals with rabies shed the virus in their saliva. If saliva from an infected animal gets onto a break in a person’s skin—most commonly through a bite—or on mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose), that person might become infected. Rabies vaccine, administered after a possible exposure, is highly effective at preventing the progression to rabies disease. However, once an infected person develops symptoms of rabies, there is no effective treatment, and the infected person will likely die within a few days.
In California, most cases of rabies occur in bats. Rabies is also occasionally detected in other wild animals, such as skunks and foxes. Rabies is rarely identified in domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, but can occur if they are bitten by a rabid wild animal.
Rabies can be prevented by avoiding contact with unfamiliar animals. If you are bitten by an animal, report the bite to your local health department or animal control agency. Wash the bite wound thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to rabies, contact your health care provider.
It is important to protect your pets from rabies. Do not allow pets to have contact with wild or unfamiliar animals. Keep them confined on your property or under control when off your property. See your veterinarian regularly to ensure that your pet remains in good health and is up-to-date on its rabies vaccination. All dogs in California are required to be vaccinated against rabies.