Rabies: Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Prevention - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Rabies Basics

On this page:
Signs and symptoms
Cause (transmission)
Rabid amimals
Diagnosis
Treatment
Prevention
Fact Sheet

Signs and symptoms

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.

  • The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to other illnesses. These symptoms may last for days.
    • fever
    • headache
    • and general weakness or discomfort.
  • As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear including: 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.

  • With rabies, the incubation period may be a few days to several weeks or longer. That means there is typically a period of time between getting bitten and experiencing symptoms of rabies.

Cause (transmission)

  • The rabies virus cannot penetrate intact skin.

Rabid amimals

  • In Minnesota, rabies is found mainly in skunks and bats.
    • Pets generally develop the disease following a bite from a rabid skunk.
    • People are generally exposed to rabies by bats, or unvaccinated pets and livestock.
    • Almost three quarters of human rabies cases in the U.S. between 1990 and 2001 came from contact with bats.
  • Bites from wild carnivores and large rodents such as muskrats, groundhogs, and beaver are also of concern.
  • Animals that are not a rabies risk in Minnesota include mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, voles, and rabbits.
    • Animals of Concern for Rabies
      Species of concern for rabies in Minnesota: Domestic animcals, wild animals, captive wild or hybrid animals; and species are not a rabies concern in Minnesota.
  • Because of widespread vaccination programs in the United States, transmission from dogs and cats to people is very rare.
    Outside the United States, exposure to rabid dogs is the most common cause of transmission to humans.

  • For questions regarding animals that have been bitten by a suspect rabid animal in which there is no human exposure, please contact the Board of Animal Health (BAH) at (651) 201-6808.

Diagnosis

  • Rapid and accurate laboratory diagnosis of rabies in humans and other animals is essential for timely administration of postexposure prophylaxis. 

  • The only test for rabies in animals that may be used to guide human rabies risk analysis is the direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test.
    • There is no live animal test for rabies.
    • The animal’s brain, specifically sections of the medulla, cerebellum, and hippocampus are required to perform the test.
    • The brain must be relatively fresh and in good condition, as the test cannot be done reliably if the different regions of the brain are not discernable.
    • Rabies Testing
      Guidelines for submitting suspect animals for rabies testing, laboratory testing, result reporting, result follow-up, rabies testing in humans.

  • Testing for diagnosis of rabies in humans is performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    CDC: Diagnosis in Animals and Humans Attention: Non-MDH link.

Treatment

  • Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare.
  • To date less than 10 documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been reported and only two have not had a history of pre- or postexposure prophylaxis.

Prevention

  • Vaccinate your pets.
    Dogs, cats, and ferrets can be infected by rabies.
  • Never approach any stray or wild animals.

Fact Sheet

Minnesota's Rabies Facts
Fact sheet with frequently asked questions about rabies.

Updated Wednesday, March 09, 2016 at 11:21AM