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How Rabies is Spread


(Pathology and Epidemiology)

Rabies is usually transmitted via the rabies virus-laden saliva of a rabid animal bite. The virus is generally found in concentration sufficient for infection only in the saliva, salivary glands and brains of rabid animals.¹

Incubation of rabies varies from a few days to several months. During this time, rabies virus multiplies locally at the wound site, then invades the peripheral nerves supplying that area. From there, the virus migrates to the central nervous system and radiates to various organs, including the salivary glands.²

IMPORTANT: Rabies virus can be transmitted in the saliva up to seven days prior to the appearance of any clinical signs.³

Therefore, all bites to humans should be reported and handled as if they were suspicious — including quarantining and observing the animal for 10 days — regardless of clinical signs.

Tips for Pet Owners:

  • Exposure to unvaccinated pets or wildlife — even bats that enter your house — can increase your pet’s risk of rabies infection.
  • Following any such exposure, always check your pet thoroughly for fresh bites or scratches.
  • Report any suspicious injuries to your veterinarian.
  • Learn more about how you can prevent rabies.

¹Trimarchi CV, Briggs DJ. The diagnosis of rabies, RABIES: Guidelines for Medical Professionals, Veterinary Learning Systems. 1999:56.
²Chomel B. Rabies exposure and clinical disease in animals, RABIES: Guidelines for Medical Professionals, Veterinary Learning Systems. 1999:21.
³Fekadu M, Shaddock JH, Baer GM. Excretion of rabies virus in the saliva of dogs. J Infect Dis. 1982;145:(5):715-719.

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