Rabies is a preventable viral disease that can infect both animals and humans. The virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and is transmitted through close contact with an infected animal – usually through a bite or scratch. If an exposed person or animal is not treated quickly, the virus is fatal.
Rabies is common in wildlife in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and therefore should be left alone. As it can be difficult to prevent interactions between pets and wildlife, it is important and the law in North Carolina to vaccinate pets against rabies. If your pet has been properly vaccinated against rabies, but comes into contact with a potentially rabid animal, it should receive a rabies vaccine booster shot within 72 hours of that contact. The most commonly rabies-infected domesticated animal is the cat. The American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors! campaign provides helpful tips on how to reduce your cats interaction with wildlife, thereby lowering their exposure to the rabies virus among other diseases.
The rabies virus is transmitted through contact with saliva and brain/nervous system tissue that may enter the body through a bite wound, scratch, open cuts in the skin, and through mucous membranes such as the mouth or eyes. If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal of unknown vaccination history, wash the wound immediately and seek medical attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides in-depth information on rabies exposure and post exposure treatment.
Never try to capture a wild animal that has bitten or scratched you, instead call animal control and ask for assistance. If you find a bat in your home, do not try to capture it yourself, instead try to enclose it on a small room or area then call animal control. Generally you will know if you've been bitten by a bat but there are instances where the bite may not be evident as the teeth are quite small. If you awake in a room and find a bat there, or if you find a bat in the room with an unattended child, contact animal control and seek medical consultation.
In North Carolina, only 3% of the bat population is infected with the disease. An excellent source for more information about bats and the benefits they provide to the environment is available from Bat Conservation International.
As prevention is critical to reducing the risk of rabies exposure, the Wake County Animal Care, Control and Adoption Center encourages all pet owners to comply with the North Carolina law and keep their pet's rabies vaccinations current. In order to promote vaccinations, the Center offers low-cost rabies clinics, where each pet can be vaccinated for $5.
Additional resources for more information on the rabies virus and prevention can be found from the following organizations: