Direct from the Center for Disease Control: Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal.
Rabies infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain which leads to death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms. There is no cure for rabies virus, only prevention, and once symptoms begin rabies virus infection is fatal.
Transmission of rabies virus usually begins when infected saliva of a host is passed to an uninfected animal. The most common mode of rabies virus transmission is through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected host. Though transmission has been rarely documented via other routes such as contamination of mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth), aerosol transmission, and corneal and organ transplantations.
What animals most commonly carry Rabies?: All species of mammals (including humans) are susceptible to rabies virus infection, but only a few species are important as reservoirs for the disease. In the United States, distinct strains of rabies virus have been identified in raccoons, skunks, foxes, groundhogs, and coyotes. Several species of insectivorous bats are also reservoirs for strains of the rabies virus. These species are referred to as Rabies Vector Species (RVS). Even if an animal appears friendly and lets you approach it, it is still a high rabies risk. Sometimes symptoms are not obvious.
Please never handle RVS animals without protecting yourself from any exposure to saliva or bites. This includes both adult and baby RVS animals.
Does the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center accept RVS animals?: Yes – the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center cares for all of PA’s native wildlife and treats all animals the same. Our main goal is to see the release of any wild animal back into the wild.
What is an exposure and what happens when you are exposed?: Rabies is transmitted only when the virus is introduced into a bite wound, open cuts in skin, or onto mucous membranes such as the mouth or eyes. Under most circumstances, two categories of exposure — bite and nonbite — should be considered. Humans and animals (like pets) are considered exposed when: bitten, skin is contaminated with saliva, prolonged exposure has occurred (such as keeping wild RVS as a pet), and multiple parties have handled the animal without gloves.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center takes human exposure to potential rabies virus infection very seriously and will work with the Health Department to take the next steps in assuring your health and safety. We must report exposures and there is no exception to this rule due to the serious nature of potential infection.