Rabies is a preventable virus that is transmitted by the bite of an infected rabid animal. All species of mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection, but there are certain species that are more likely to carry the disease. In the United States, rabies is most often found in raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, and it is also carried by several species of bats.
Rabies affects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of other illnesses and includes fever, headache, and general weakness. Later symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, hallucinations, an increase in saliva, difficulty swallowing, and fear of water. Death occurs within days of the onset of later symptoms.
Rabies is typically transmitted through saliva, most often in the form of an animal bite. Rabies in humans is preventable through prompt medical care—if you think you may have been bitten by a rabid animal, seek medical attention immediately. If you are ever around an animal that seems to be acting in a way other than typical of that species, stay away from the animal and be sure to report it to the proper authorities when you are safely away. One more important thing you can do is make sure that you have your pets immunized against rabies—your pet dog or cat is also susceptible to getting rabies, too.
The last four cases of human rabies in Wisconsin occurred in 1959, 2000, 2004 and 2010. All four cases acquired the disease from infected bats. If you or your child was exposed to a bat and are unsure if it should be tested, please contact our public health nurse and we can assist you in determining the correct course of action. Bats may be sent in to the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene for immediate testing if warranted.