Rabies is a deadly viral infection that is mainly spread by infected animals.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Rabies is spread by infected saliva that enters the body through a bite or broken skin. The virus travels from the wound to the brain, where it causes swelling, or inflammation. This inflammation leads to symptoms of the disease. Most rabies deaths occur in children.
In the past, human cases in the United States usually resulted from a dog bite, but recently, more cases of human rabies have been linked to bats and raccoons. Although dog bites are a common cause of rabies in developing countries, there have been no reports of rabies caused by dog bites in the United States for a number of years due to widespread animal vaccination.
Other wild animals that can spread the rabies virus include:
Very rarely, rabies has been transmitted without an actual bite. This is believed to have been caused by infected saliva that has gotten into the air.
The United Kingdom had once completely eradicated rabies, but recently, rabies-infected bats have been found in Scotland.
Review Date: 02/10/2011
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital.