Rockingham County Health and Human Services
Felissa Ferrell
Director of Health and Human Services
Felissa Ferrell
Director of Social Services
Susan Young, BSN,RN
Interim Health Director

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Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted through a bite.


Animals most likely to transmit rabies in the United States include bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks.

Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of rabies, the disease is nearly always fatal. For that reason, anyone who may have a risk of contracting rabies should receive rabies vaccines for protection.


When to see your doctor

Seek immediate medical care if you're bitten by any animal. Based on your injuries and the situation in which the bite occurred, you and your doctor can decide whether you should receive treatment to prevent rabies.


Rabies infection is caused by the rabies virus. The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals. Infected animals can spread the virus by biting another animal or a person. In rare cases, rabies can be spread when infected saliva gets into an open wound or the mucous membranes, such as the mouth or eyes. This could occur if an infected animal were to lick an open cut on your skin.

Any mammal can transmit the rabies virus. The animals most likely to transmit the rabies virus to people include:

Pets and farm animals

  1. Cats
  2. Cows
  3. Dogs
  4. Ferrets
  5. Goats
  6. Horses
  7. Rabbits

Wild animals

  1. Bats
  2. Beavers
  3. Coyotes
  4. Foxes
  5. Raccoons
  6. Skunks
  7. Woodchucks

There has never been a documented case of human-to-human rabies transmission. In rare cases, the virus has been transmitted to tissue and organ transplant recipients from an infected organ.

Risk Factors

Factors that can increase your risk of rabies include:

  • Traveling or living in developing countries where rabies is more common, including countries in Africa and Southeast Asia
  • Activities that are likely to put you in contact with wild animals that may have rabies, such as exploring caves where bats live or camping without taking precautions to keep wild animals away from your campsite
  • Working in a laboratory with the rabies virus
  • Wounds to the head or neck, which may help the rabies virus travel to your brain more quickly

What to do if you are bitten or scratched

If an animal bites or scratches you, seek medical attention for the wound. Also contact the Health Department and tell them about the circumstances of your injury. You may be asked the following questions:

  • What animal bit you?
  • Was it a wild animal or a pet?
  • If it was a pet, do you know to whom the animal belongs?
  • Can you describe the animal's behavior before it bit you?
  • Was the animal provoked?
  • Were you able to capture or kill the animal after it bit you?

What you can do in the meantime

  • Wash your wound gently and thoroughly with soap and generous amounts of water. This may help wash away the virus.
  • If the animal that bit you can be contained or captured without causing more injury, do so. Do not kill the animal with a blow or a shot to the head, as the resulting injuries may make it difficult to perform laboratory tests to determine whether the animal has rabies.  After you have captured or killed it or if you cannot capture it, call Animal Control (336)634-3300

Tests and Diagnosis

If you were able to capture or kill the animal after it bit you or attacked, contact the Health Department and an Animal Control Officer will it pick it up to be tested.  

At the time a rabid animal bites you, there's no way to know whether the animal has transmitted the rabies virus to you. For this reason, treatment to prevent the rabies virus from infecting your body is recommended if the doctor thinks there's a chance you have been exposed to the virus.

Blood and tissue tests are used to diagnose rabies in people who have signs and symptoms of the infection.

Treatment and Drugs

There is no specific treatment for rabies infection. Though a small number of people have survived rabies, the disease is usually fatal. For that reason, anyone thought to have been exposed to rabies receives a series of shots to prevent the infection from taking hold.

Treatment for people bitten by animals with rabies

  • If you've been bitten by an animal that is known to have rabies, you'll receive a series of shots to prevent the rabies virus from infecting you. If the animal that bit you can't be found, it may be safest to assume that the animal has rabies. But this will depend on several factors, such as the type of animal and the situation in which the bite occurred.
    • Rabies shots include:
      • A fast-acting shot (rabies immune globulin) to prevent the virus from infecting you. Part of this injection is given near the area where the animal bit you if possible, as soon as possible after the bite.
      • A series of rabies vaccines to help your body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus. Rabies vaccines are given as injections in your arm. You receive five injections over 14 days.

Determining whether the animal that bit you has rabies

  • In some cases, it's possible to determine whether the animal that bit you has rabies before beginning the series of rabies shots. That way, if it's determined the animal is healthy, you won't need the shots.

Procedures for determining if animal has rabies


Cats, dogs and ferrets that bite can be observed for 10 days to see if they show signs and symptoms of rabies. If the animal that bit you remains healthy during the observation period, then it doesn't have rabies and you won't need rabies shots. Other pets and farm animals are considered on a case-by-case basis. Talk to your doctor and the local public health officials to determine whether you should receive rabies shots.  Wild animals that can be found and captured, such as a bat that came into your home, can be euthanized and tested for rabies. Tests on the animal's brain may reveal the rabies virus. If the animal doesn't have rabies, you won't need the shots.  If the animal that bit you can't be found, discuss the situation with your doctor and the local health department. In certain cases, it may be safest to assume that the animal had rabies and proceed with the rabies shots. In other cases, it may be unlikely that the animal that bit you had rabies and it may be determined that rabies shots aren't necessary.

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