PUBLIC HEALTHFACT SHEET Rabies
What is rabies?
Rabies is a disease of the brain and spinal cord and is caused by a virus. Rabies is a fatal disease. Rabies in humans is very rare in the U.S., but rabies in certain animals - especially wildlife - is common in many parts of the country, including New Hampshire.
How is rabies spread?
The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus may also be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, nose, or eyes. In caves crowded with many bats, it may be possible to inhale the virus floating on bat saliva in the air.
What kinds of animals spread rabies?
The rabies virus can infect any mammal (if it has hair or fur, it is a mammal), but is more common among certain ones like bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Cats, dogs, and livestock can also get rabies-and spread it to their owners-if they do not have special shots to protect them. Rabies is very rare among small rodents like squirrels, rats, mice, and chipmunks. Fish, reptiles (such as snakes, turtles and lizards), amphibians (such as frogs and salamanders), and insects (bugs) cannot get or spread rabies.
Is rabies common in New Hampshire?
Rabies in animals has been identified in most towns in the southern two thirds of the state. It has been identified in both wild and domestic animals.
How can you tell if an animal is rabid?
Rabid animals often behave strangely after the virus attacks their brains. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem to be unnaturally friendly. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals - especially bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Also, you should not feed or touch stray cats and dogs.
What should you do if you think you've been exposed to rabies?
If you have been bitten or scratched by a stray or wild animal or by a pet or farm animal that has been behaving oddly, follow these steps:
If your pet has been bitten or scratched by an animal that you think may be rabid, put on gloves before touching your pet. Follow the steps above but call your pet's veterinarian instead of your own doctor as in step 2.
What is the treatment for people exposed to rabies?
The treatment for people exposed to rabies involves two medications. One, called rabies immune globulin (or RIG), contains antibodies to fight the virus and is given once. The other medication is rabies vaccine, which ensures long-lasting protection, and is given as five shots over the course of a month. (Rabies shots are no longer given in the stomach.) People who received the full series of rabies shots in the past need only two rabies vaccine shots. To work best, the medications should begin as soon as possible after the bite or scratch. However, if the animal has been caught and will be tested for rabies, you can wait for the test results to see if the shots are necessary.
How can you prevent rabies?
Where can you get more information?
New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services - Rabies Fact Sheet
Salem Health Department33 Geremonty DriveSalem, NH 03079
Phone: (603) 890-2050Fax: (603) 898-1223
Town Hall Hours Monday - Friday, 8:30am - 5:00pm
Office/Permit HoursMonday-Friday, 8:30am - 9:30am & 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Health OfficerBrian Lockard, CFPM(Certified Food Safety Professional)
FDA Certified Inspector
Frequently Asked Questions