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Rabies & Other Zoonotics

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system.  It is transmitted from infected mammals to other mammals and humans and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear.  Fortunately, only a few human cases are reported each year in the United States.

There are many great online resources to learn more about zoonotic disease and its prevention, including:

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system.  It is transmitted from infected mammals to other mammals and humans and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear.  Fortunately, only a few human cases are reported each year in the United States.

What animals can get rabies?

Rabies is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can be infected with rabies.  Pets and livestock can get rabies if they are not vaccinated to protect them against infection. Among domestic animals, cats are most frequently diagnosed with rabies in New York State.

Some animals almost never get rabies.  These include rabbits and small rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters.  It is possible for these animals to get rabies, but only in rare circumstances, such as if they are attacked but not killed by a rabid animal.

Reptiles (such as lizards and snakes), amphibians (like frogs), birds, fish and insects do not get or carry rabies.

What are the signs of rabies in animals?

The first sign of rabies is usually a change in an animal's behavior. It may become unusually aggressive or tame. The animal may lose its fear of people and natural enemies. A wild animal may appear affectionate and friendly. It may become excited or irritable and attack anything in its path.

Symptoms also include staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis. Many animals will make very unusual sounds. Infected animals usually die within one week after showing signs of rabies.

How do people become exposed to rabies?

People usually get exposed to the rabies virus when an infected animal bites them.  Exposure may also occur if saliva from a rabid animal enters an open cut or mucous membrane (eyes, nose or mouth).

What should I do if I am exposed to rabies?

Wash all wounds thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.

Report all animal bites, even if they seem minor. In Dutchess County, call (845) 486-3404.  Outside of Dutchess County, please visit the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) website.

Keep track of the animal that exposed you and report this information to Dutchess County so the animal can be captured safely.  In the case of a bat, you may be able to safely capture it yourself and bring it to the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community, or your local health department if outside of Dutchess.  The specimen will then be transferred to NYS Department of Health for rabies testing.

To learn how to capture a bat safely, view a short video (1 minute 22 seconds).

Healthy dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestock that have bitten a person or another animal, will be confined under the direction of the Department and observed for ten days following the bite.  If the animal remains healthy during this period, the animal did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite.

Other types of animals that cause a potential human exposure must be tested for rabies under the direction of the Department.  If an animal cannot be observed or tested for rabies, treatment may be necessary for the people exposed.  We will assist you and your physician to determine whether treatment is necessary.

What is the treatment for people exposed to rabies?

Treatment after rabies exposure consists of a dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) administered as soon as possible after exposure, plus 4 doses of rabies vaccine given over two weeks.

  • If there is a wound, the full dose of HRIG should go into the wound, if possible.
  • The first vaccine dose is given at the same time, with the remaining injections given on days 3, 7 and 14 following the initial injection.
  • People who have weakened immune systems may require a fifth dose of vaccine, as determined by their doctor.

What happens if a rabies exposure goes untreated?

While exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies.  If treatment is initiated promptly following a rabies exposure, rabies can be prevented.  If a rabies exposure is not treated and a person develops clinical signs of rabies, the disease almost always results in death.

How do I protect my pets from rabies?

The best way to keep pets safe from rabies is to vaccinate them and keep their shots up-to-date.  Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health provides free rabies vaccination for dogs, cats, and ferrets of residents at their Pet Rabies Vaccination Clinics.  Non-residents may have their pets vaccinated for a small fee ($10).  

Our next Rabies Vaccination Clinic will be scheduled soon.  Register at Dutchess Delivery to receive a notice when the next clinic is announced.

If your pet has been injured by a rabid animal, contact your veterinarian to get medical care.  Even though your pet has been vaccinated, a booster dose of rabies vaccine may be needed within five days of the incident.

In Dutchess County, call the Department to determine what additional follow-up may be needed at 845-486-3404.

What can people do to protect themselves against rabies?

Where can I get more information about rabies?

The Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health's Frequently Asked Questions (.pdf) for printing out and distributing to your school, community group, or business.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has additional information about the rabies virus, how it is transmitted, and when an individual should seek medical attention.