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Chief of Police - Jeffrey L. Kennedy
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What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease which affects the nervous system. It can affect all mammals, including man. Rabies is a fatal disease once symptoms appear.

How is rabies spread?
Rabies is spread most often through the bite of a rabid animal. It can also be spread through a scratch that breaks the skin or through exposure of an open wound or mucous membrane (eye, nose, or mouth) to saliva from a rabid animal. In Pennsylvania, rabies has been found in raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, cats, dogs, and other species.

What are the symptoms or rabies?
Early symptoms in humans include irritability, headache, fever, and sometimes itching or pain at the site of the exposure. The disease progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium, and death. By the time any symptoms appear, rabies cannot be successfully treated. Therefore, infection must be prevented by administration of the rabies vaccine immediately after exposure. The symptoms of rabies in animals may vary from a quiet, depressed state to a furious, erratic behavior pattern.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?
The time between exposure and the onset of symptoms is variable but is normally two to eight weeks in humans. Incubation periods as short as five days or over one year have been reported. The incubation period for animals also varies. It may range from 12 days to a year after exposure, but is most common within 30-60 days.

What should you do if you are bitten by any animal?
The first step in rabies prevention is to promptly wash the wound with plenty of soap and warm water. See your doctor immediately for medical treatment. If circumstances of the exposure warrant, the rabies vaccine will be given. The vaccine is a series of five shots given in the arm (or thigh for small children) on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28 upon seeking medical care. Rabies immune globulin is also given along with the day 0 vaccine.

A physician should be consulted following any exposure to a bat in the home when it is not certain if a bite has occurred and this animal cannot be properly tested.

What should be done with the biting animal?
If acting normally, dogs, cats and ferrets may be observed for 10 days from the day of the bite. If these animals stay healthy after 10 days, they were not infectious at the time of the bite. Observation for 10 days is not an option for animals other than normally acting domestic dogs, cats, and ferrets. A veterinarian and local health authority can also be consulted to advise further action. Wild animals should be humanely killed and the head taken to a laboratory for rabies testing. If an animal must be killed to prevent its escape, care should be taken not to damage the brain.

What can communities do to control rabies?

  • All animals should be restrained and leashed when in public.

  • Stray and ownerless dogs should be impounded.

  • All dogs and cats should be registered, licensed, and vaccinated.

  • Mass rabies vaccination clinics should be developed and supported.

  • Wild animals should not be handled or kept as pets.

  PA Department of Health
Tom Wolfe, Governor
Dr. Rachel Levine, Acting Secretary of Health

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is an equal opportunity provider of grants, contracts, services, and employment.

The information on this page is supported by the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

PA Department of Health
P.O. Box 90, Harrisburg, PA 17108


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