Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord. It is a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from infected mammals to humans and is always considered fatal. All mammals, including humans, can get rabies. Among wild animals, rabies occurs most often in raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes. Rabies does not occur in animals such as snakes, lizards, frogs, birds, fish, or insects.
The rabies virus is found in the saliva and tissue or fluid from the central nervous system of rabid animals. Rabies is most commonly transmitted to people who are bitten by and therefore exposed to the saliva of a rabid animal. Although rare, exposure can also occur if saliva, tissue, or fluid from the central nervous system from a rabid animal gets into a scratch or other fresh wound or mucous membrane (eye, nose, mouth). Exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If treatment is initiated promptly following a rabies exposure, rabies can be prevented. If a rabies exposure is not treated and a person develops clinical signs of rabies, the disease is always considered to be fatal.
If you think you were exposed to rabies, first wash your wound with lots of soap and water as soon as possible. Then seek medical attention to have the wound evaluated and treated, if necessary. The health care provider, victim, or parent/guardian should then contact the Delaware Division of Public Health, Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at 1-888-295-5156. An epidemiologist is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to assist you.