Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system. It is transmitted from infected mammals to man and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear. Fortunately, only a few cases are reported each year in the United States.

Disease Fact Sheet

Disease Facts

All warm-blooded mammals including man are susceptible to rabies.

Rabies is almost always contracted by exposure to a rabid animal. The exposure is usually through a bite, but scratches and saliva contact with broken skin or mucus membranes are also possible routes.

Early symptoms include irritability, headache, fever and sometimes itching or pain at the exposure site. The disease progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium, and death.

The incubation period is variable but is normally two to eight weeks. Incubation periods of over one year have been reported.

Person-to-person transmission is extremely rare, however, precautions should be taken to prevent exposure to the saliva of the diseased person.

Treatment requires prompt scrubbing of the bite site, followed by the administration of rabies immune globulin (dosage dependent on weight) and four doses of human rabies vaccine administered in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, and 14 after the first vaccination.

Exposure of man to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If preventive treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, most cases of rabies will be prevented. Untreated cases will invariably result in death.

Exposure to rabies may be minimized by removing all stray dogs and cats, having all pets vaccinated, and staying away from all wild animals, especially those acting abnormally.

South Dakota Information


This material is provided by the South Dakota Department of Health for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical care. We are not able to answer personal medical questions. Please see your health care provider concerning appropriate care, treatment, or other medical advice.

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