Rabies is a preventable disease that is caused by a virus. The deadly virus spreads to people from the saliva of infected animals. The rabies virus is usually transmitted through a bite or scratch.
When the rabies virus enters the body, its spreads through the nerves to the brain and spinal cord. Once rabies has attacked the brain, it is almost always fatal.
How is rabies transmitted?
The rabies virus is most commonly transmitted through contact with saliva that may enter the body through a bite wound, scratch, open cuts in the skin, and through mucous membranes such as the mouth or eyes. If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal of unknown vaccination history, wash the wound immediately and seek medical attention.
The most commonly rabies-infected domesticated animal is the cat. The American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors! campaign provides helpful tips on how to reduce your cats interaction with wildlife, thereby lowering their exposure to the rabies virus among other diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides in-depth information on rabies - click here for that information.
Protect yourself and your family
- Stay away from animals you don't know. Teach children to do the same. "Love your own, leave others alone!" is a good rule to remember.
- Report stray animals to your local animal control office.
- Don't touch, keep or feed wild animals.
Protect your pets
- North Carolina General Statute 130A-185 states the owner of a dog, cat or ferret over four months of age shall have the animal vaccinated against rabies.
- Make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccinations. North Carolina law requires owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to have their animals vaccinated against rabies, beginning at four months of age.
- Do not allow your pets to run free. Supervise them when they are outside to avoid contact with wild animals.
- Call your area animal control to report stray animals; they could be unvaccinated and sick.
- Spay or neuter pets. This helps to keep them from straying.
Protect your home
Don't attract wild animals.
- Keep trash can lids on tight.
- Don't leave pet food outside.
- Cap chimneys.
- Seal places animals can hide. Bats can squeeze into small places--about the size of a dime! Seal openings that bats could enter.
- Fill holes around wires and tubes that go into your home.
- Use screens on open windows and doors.
- Make sure doors and windows shut tightly.
- Put draft guards under doors to attics.
- Call your area animal control office if you find a bat in your home. Never touch a bat. If you find a bat on the floor or ground, cover it with a bucket or container until animal control arrives or tells you what to do. Call your doctor or the Wake County Health & Human Services Communicable Disease Program at 919-250-4462 if you have been bitten or if you wake up with a bat in your room.
If you are bitten
- Wash the wound well with soap and water.
- Go to the doctor because treatment may be needed. There is a series of vaccines to prevent rabies for people who may have been exposed to rabies. You may also need antibiotics, or a tetanus shot.
- Report the bite to your area animal control office.
- Report the bite to the Wake County Health & Human Services Communicable Disease Program at 919-250-4462.
If your pet is bitten
- Put gloves on before touching your pet. Be careful, injured pets may bite.
- Call your veterinarian or your area animal control office. Your pet must have a booster rabies shot within 72 hours if it is exposed to an animal that could be rabid.
Wake County Area Animal Control Offices
Bats and Rabies
Bats are important to people!
Much of our food comes from plants. Bats help make sure we have these foods by pollinating plants (over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination). Bats also spread seeds.
Bats eat insects that cause disease (like mosquitoes) and destroy crops. Bats can eat thousands of insects in one meal.
There are 17 species of bats in NC. Three (3) are endangered and 1 is threatened.
Bats in NC usually mate in the spring and fall and produce 1 pup. Pups cannot fly for several weeks after they are born and can starve if separated from their mother. For this reason, bats cannot be evicted from inside buildings from May 1 through July 31.
Bats can carry rabies!
Rabies is a deadly disease to people and pets like cats and dogs. Any bat that could have had contact with people or pets should be tested for rabies.
Not all bats have rabies, but most cases of human rabies are due to contact with infected bats.
Bats that are sick with rabies could have all, some, or NONE of the following behaviors:
Active during the day. (Bats are usually active at night; they also look for food in early morning and evening hours.)
Be in places they are not usually seen (in your home, on your lawn)
Have no fear of people, are easy to approach
Unable to fly
Flopping on the ground
Making unusual sounds like hissing
You can’t always tell by looking if a bat has rabies. Rabies can only be confirmed by laboratory testing! When people may have been exposed, bats are assumed to be infected until a laboratory confirmed diagnosis is made.
Bat bites and scratches can be very small. You can be bitten or scratched by a bat and not realize it.
If you have had direct contact with a bat or have questions about possible contact, call your doctor and Wake County Health and Human Services Communicable Disease Program at 919-250-4462. A nurse will talk with you about your risk of exposure to rabies and need for vaccine to prevent rabies.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, wash the wound with soap and water. Call your doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as soon as possible. Whenever possible the bat should be safely captured and sent to the laboratory for rabies testing. Call animal control to pick up the bat for testing.
Find a bat?
Don’t touch it! Never touch a bat (dead or alive)! Teach family members and children to never touch a bat and to tell an adult if they find a bat (inside or outside).
If you find a bat outside that is not moving or looks dead, put a box or bucket over it. Call animal control to pick up the bat for testing.
If you find a bat inside, don’t let it go. Close windows and doors and leave the room. Keep pets and others away from the bat. Call animal control to catch the bat for testing. This is very important when there are situations when you might not be able to tell there has been a bat bite like:
Waking up to find a bat in the room
Finding a bat in a place with a young child or person who is not able to tell you what happened
Finding a bat near your pet.
See Protect your pets
Protect your home
Bats can squeeze into small places--about the size of a dime! Seal openings that bats could enter.
Fill holes around wires and tubes that go into your home.
Use screens on open windows and doors.
Make sure doors and windows shut tightly.
Put draft guards under doors to attics.
Call your area animal control office if you find a bat in your home. Never touch a bat. If you find a bat on the floor or ground, cover it with a bucket or container until animal control arrives or tells you what to do. Call your doctor or the Wake County Health & Human Services Communicable Disease Program at 919-250-4462 if you have been bitten or if you wake up with a bat in your room.
Rabies Laws and Rules
- NC Rabies Laws
General Statutes Chapter 130A – Public Health Article 6-Communicable Diseases. See Sections 184 through 201.
- NC Rabies Rules
Rabies Rules: Administrative Code Title 10A – Health and Human Services, Chapter 41 – Epidemiology Health, Subchapter G. See Sections .0101 - .0103.
Where can I find the current Compendium on Rabies Control?
The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarian's Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control (2016) can be found here .