Rabies is a viral encephalitis which attacks the nervous system. It is always fatal. It occurs in about two humans each year in the United States. Of the United States, only Hawaii is free of rabies.

Most rabies occurs in wild animals, which are the natural reservoir of the infection. Racoons, skunks, and bats account for 85% of reported rabies cases in animals. Bat variants of the rabies virus account for 60% of human cases.

There are several available vaccines against rabies, as well as immune globulin preparations that give temporary so-called passive immunity against the virus.

Any dog, cat or ferret bite should be evaluated for rabies potential. The animal must be observed for 10 days after the incident. If the animal begins to show signs of rabies, vaccination of the patient is done.

If a patient is exposed to an animal known or suspected of being rabid, vaccination is begun immediately. If the animal is not available for observation, public health authorities must be consulted about the decision to begin rabies vaccination.

Bats, skunks, foxes, raccoons and other wild carnivores are assumed to be rabid unless proven otherwise by laboratory test. Immediate vaccination is probably warranted.

Rabid bats are found in every state but Hawaii. Seemingly innocuous contact with bats can result in the transmission of the virus to human. Any contact with bats is potentially carries a very high risk.

Immediate treatment for possible rabies exposure begins as soon as possible with thorough scrubbing of the wound with soap and water, and if available, Betadine®. Immediate medical attention is then sought.

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