People are exposed to rabies when they are bitten by an infected animal, or less commonly, when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or onto a mucous membrane. Any bite wound should be thoroughly washed with soap and water as soon as possible. Animal bite victims should consult with their doctor and promptly report the incident to the local health department.
Rabies is almost always fatal once clinical symptoms appear. To confirm the victim’s risk of being exposed to rabies, a decision must be made to either test or quarantine the biting animal, or to treat the victim. Treatment must be initiated soon after the exposure to be effective. Ohio’s local health departments investigate more than 21,000 animal bite incidents annually. Due to health department activities and medical treatment, human rabies is rare in the United States. Ohio’s last human rabies case was in 1970.
The Ohio Department of Health Zoonotic Disease Program conducts rabies prevention activities to protect Ohio residents from the spread of wildlife rabies to people, pets and other animals. Bat, raccoon, skunk, other wild animal and domestic animal rabies cases are reviewed to determine any necessary control initiatives. The Zoonotic Disease Program works to do the following:
- Assist local health departments with rabies prevention programs and coordinate rabies control activities among local, state and federal agencies.
- Develop educational materials for the public.
- Provide consultation for public health workers, veterinarians, the medical community and others who work with animals and deal with animal bites and rabies exposures.
- Collect and maintain data on rabies and animal bites in Ohio.
Animals associated with rabies include:
- Bats: Bats are the animal reservoir for bat-strain rabies. Most of the human rabies cases acquired within the United States during the past 20 years were due to bat-strains of rabies.
- Cats: Cats can acquire rabies from wild and domestic animals and should receive rabies vaccinations to prevent them from becoming infected and spreading it to humans. In the United States, more cats than dogs are reported as rabid, perhaps due to fewer cat vaccination laws, fewer leash laws and the roaming habits of cats.
- Dogs: Dogs are a major vector of rabies in many developing countries. In the United States, dogs should be kept current on rabies vaccinations to prevent them from being infected from wildlife and spreading it to humans.
- Ferrets: Ferrets can become infected with rabies and pose a risk for rabies transmission to humans and other mammals, although the rates of ferret bites are much lower than that of other animals kept as pets. A vaccine to prevent rabies is available for ferrets.
- Horses: Horses can become infected with rabies from wild and domestic animals and pose a risk of rabies transmission to humans and other mammals, although it is rare in Ohio due to the success of oral rabies vaccination campaign to keep the raccoon rabies variant from advancing through the state. A vaccine to prevent rabies is available for horses.
- Livestock: Livestock can become infected with rabies through contact with wild and domestic animals and pose a risk of rabies transmission to humans and other mammals. Rabies is rare in Ohio livestock due to the success of the oral rabies vaccination campaign to keep the raccoon rabies variant from advancing through the state. A vaccine to prevent rabies is available for livestock.
- Raccoons: Raccoons are the animal reservoir for raccoon rabies variant. Raccoon rabies variant is present in Ohio, particularly in the northeastern part of the state. People or their pets can become exposed to rabies when they are bitten by a raccoon. The Ohio Department of Health and other state and local agencies have partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services to implement a program to immunize wild raccoons for rabies using oral rabies vaccines.
- Skunks: Skunks are the animal reservoir for skunk-strain rabies, although they can be infected with any strain of rabies.
- Other mammals: Any mammal can be infected with rabies and transmit it to another mammal.
Steps to reduce your risk of rabies:
- Avoid contact with wild animals, sick or injured animals and animals you don’t know.
- Pet vaccinations should be kept current, and pets should not be permitted to roam.
- Food and nesting or hiding places for wild animals should be eliminated from residential areas. Do not feed wildlife, and if you must feed your pets outside, bring the food in at night or keep it covered.
- Call your doctor and your local health department if you are bitten by an animal. Human rabies immunizations are effective in preventing human rabies. A series of post-exposure rabies immunizations can be given to animal bite victims when the biting animal cannot be quarantined or tested.
- Call your veterinarian if your pet gets into a fight with a wild animal.
Ohio statistics and maps:
Disease reporting and surveillance:
Rabies risk assessment guides:
Rabies testing material:
Rabies prevention literature:
Last updated: 09/15/2015
Zoonotic Disease Program