1. What is rabies?
Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of warm-blooded mammals, including humans. Once symptoms of rabies appear, it is almost always fatal.
2. How do people get rabies?
People are usually exposed to rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. However, people may be exposed to rabies by non-bite exposures. All bites, regardless of location, represent a potential risk of rabies transmission.
3. What is a non-bite exposure?
Scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth) that become contaminated with virus-containing saliva from a rabid animal constitute non-bite exposure.
4. What is the incubation period of rabies in humans?
The incubation period, which is the time period between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms, can range from 20 to 60 days, although it may vary from several days to years. The severity and location of the wound, along with the susceptibility of the person to infection, may affect the incubation period.
5. What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?
Early symptoms are flu-like, including headache, fever, and fatigue. Symptoms progress rapidly as the central nervous system is attached.
6. What medical attention do I need if I am exposed to rabies?
If you are bitten by an animal or if saliva from an animal gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound, then you should immediately wash the affected skin area with soap and water for several minutes. If the animal’s saliva is on your clothing, wash it immediately in hot, soapy water. Washing immediately can greatly reduce the chances for infection. Contact your doctor, or local Public Health Nurse, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right away. Your risk of exposure to rabies must be assessed, and rabies vaccinations administered promptly if the risk of exposure to the virus is high.
7. How many cases of human rabies have been reported in Canada?
Human rabies cases are very rare in Canada. For the most recent information on the number of rabies cases in Canada, visit the Vaccine Preventable Diseases: Rabies section of the Public Health Agency of Canada.