The rabies virus enters the body through a cut, scratch, or bite, or through the mouth or eyes. It travels to the central nervous system. Once the virus reaches the brain, it travels into the nerves and grows in different organs.
The rabies virus is spread through an infected animal's saliva. It can pass between animals through biting. It can also pass through scratching, as many animals lick their claws.
A child may get rabies if he or she is bitten or scratched by an animal with rabies. The virus can also be spread if a child has scratches or sores that are licked by an infected animal. Rabies can also spread if a child touches his or her mouth or eyes with hands that have saliva of an infected animal.
A child is more at risk for rabies if he or she lives in an area where rabies is known to be present.
In the U.S., rabies is mainly found in skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats. In some areas, these wild animals may infect pet cats, dogs, and livestock such as horses. In the U.S., cats are more likely than dogs to have rabies.
Each state keeps information about animals that may carry rabies. You can contact your state’s department of public health to learn more.
Symptoms can start 5 days to more than a year after contact with the rabies virus. The average time is about 2 months. These are the most common symptoms of rabies:
General symptoms for 2 to 10 days may include:
Other symptoms include pain, itching, or numbness and tingling at the site of the wound
An animal that has bitten or scratched your child can be tested for rabies. This test is called direct fluorescent antibody test (dFA). Test results are usually known within a few hours. If the animal does not have rabies, your child may not need rabies vaccine shots.
No single test can show if a child has rabies. Your child may need several kinds of tests. Tests are done on samples of blood, saliva, spinal fluid, and skin biopsy taken from the nape of the neck.
Vaccines that give immunity to rabies must be given soon after contact with the rabies virus. Once symptoms occur, there is no known treatment for rabies.
Treatment for suspected contact with rabies is done with one dose of immune globulin and a series of shots of rabies vaccine over a 2-week period.
A pre-exposure rabies vaccine may also be used to protect children at high risk for exposure. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider to learn more.
Being safe around animals, even pets, can help reduce the risk for animal bites. Some general guidelines for preventing animal bites and rabies include:
Teaching your child about animal safety can also help to prevent animal bites. This includes:
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Tell the healthcare provider:
Don't attempt to capture a wild or sick animal that has bitten your child. Tell animal control officers.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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