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About rabies and prevention practices

About rabies and prevention practices

Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus. People start to show signs of the disease 1 to 3 months or longer after being bitten by an animal carrying the rabies virus. The early signs of rabies can be fever or headache, but this changes quickly to central nervous system signs, such as confusion, sleepiness or agitation. Once someone with rabies infection starts having these symptoms, that person usually dies within weeks. It is very important to talk to your doctor or health care provider right away if any animal bites you, especially a wild animal. This is because there is effective treatment to prevent rabies, as long as the treatment is given in time. Your doctor will consult with Public Health specialists and decide if you require treatment.

Many kinds of animals can pass rabies to people. Wild animals are much more likely than domestic animals to carry rabies, especially bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Bats especially are of concern as rabies carriers in this part of the country. However, dogs, cats, cows, or any warm-blooded animal can pass rabies to people. People usually get rabies from the bite of an infected animal, or from other forms of contact with the animal's saliva. Some animals, such as dogs and cats, can be vaccinated against rabies, but you should always wash any bite thoroughly and check with your health care provider about what to do if any animal bites you.

Be a responsible pet owner

  • Keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. This is important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection for you, if your animal is bitten by a rabid animal such as a bat. Seattle and King County regulations require that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies by 4 months of age and booster shots be kept current.
  • Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately and call Public Health for further advice.
  • Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood. They may be unvaccinated and could be infected with rabies.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.

Avoid contact with unfamiliar animals

  • Enjoy wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes from afar. Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans, uncovered compost bins, or pet food left outside.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control, an animal rescue agency or wildlife rehabilitator like PAWS for assistance.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.
  • Prevent bats from entering homes or occupied spaces in churches, schools, and other similar areas where they might come in contact with people and pets. If a person or pet has any exposure to a bat, including finding a bat in the house, it is very important to call Public Health for advice.
  • When traveling abroad, avoid contact with wild animals and be especially careful around dogs in developing countries. Rabies is common in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America where many dogs are infected with rabies. Tens of thousands of people die of rabies each year in these countries. Before traveling abroad, consult with a health care provider, travel clinic, or your health department about your risk of exposure to rabies, if you should be immunized against rabies before you go, and how you should handle an animal exposure, should it arise.

Contact us if you have a question about rabies

Public Health - Seattle & King County provides consultation for animal bites or bat exposures. If a person may have been exposed, call 206-296-4774. If a pet may have been exposed or if you want more information about rabies vaccination of pets, call 206-263-9566. Also see the Public Health websites at: