Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. The virus is usually passed to humans via the bite of a rabid animal. Occasionally rabies can be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal gets into a fresh scratch, break in the skin, or contact with mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose). In California, most cases of rabies occur in skunks and bats. Domestic animals account for three percent of animal rabies, and the rest occurs in a variety of wild animals, including foxes. If you are bitten or scratched by a rabid or possibly rabid animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water and immediately consult a physician or your local health department. The physician will decide if the series of rabies vaccinations is necessary. If so, the vaccination series should be started as soon as possible.
Rabies can be prevented by:
- Being a responsible pet owner. Keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats and dogs. Take your pet to your veterinarian on a regular basis. Maintain control of your pets by keeping them under direct supervision. Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly. Lastly, call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.
- Avoiding contact with unfamiliar animals. Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not handle, feed, or attract wild animals. Place litter in closed garbage cans. Never adopt or bring wild animals into your home. Teach your children to never handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. Prevent bats from entering areas where they might come in contact with people or pets. When travelling abroad, take extra care to avoid animals, especially dogs in developing countries, where rabies is common.
If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, please contact your healthcare provider. Health care providers seeking rabies postexposure prophylaxis consultation should contact the local health department.
Traveling to California with your dog or cat: All imported dogs older than 4 months of age must be vaccinated against rabies prior to entry. A certified health certificate is not required for entry however, dogs must be in good health. Cats are not required under state law to be vaccinated against rabies. Please check with the city/county animal control agency where you will be visiting for local licensing and vaccination requirements.