What is Rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal.
Signs of Rabies in Animals
Most rabid animals behave abnormally. They may appear agitated, drool excessively (appearing to foam at the mouth), and bite at imaginary and real objects. Alternatively, wild animals may show no fear of humans.
Other signs of rabies include:
- appearing excessively drunk or wobbly
- acting disoriented
- seeming partially paralyzed
- self mutilation
However, most of these signs can also be indicative of other diseases.
Species that Carry Rabies
Although any warm blooded mammal can carry or contract rabies, there are five species of wildlife in DC that are generally considered as rabies vector species.
Although often thought to carry rabies, opossums are amazingly resistant to it. Hissing, drooling, and swaying are all normal behaviors for an opossum and are part of an elaborate bluff routine intended to scare away potential predators.
Groundhogs are considered rabies vector species in some states, but not in others. Virginia considers Groundhogs a rabies vector species, but Maryland and Washington, DC do not.
People and Rabies
Rabies in the United States has changed dramatically in the last 100 years. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of fatalities due to rabies has declined from 100 cases annually to only 1 or 2 per year.
In the past ten years, only 28 people have died from rabies (Humane Society of the United States). The majority of those people were infected by bats and most didn’t even know they had been bitten. It is important to keep in mind that even though the bat strain of rabies has caused the highest number of fatalities, less than one-half of one percent of all bats in North America carry rabies. Raccoons, who suffer from rabies more than any other mammal is the US, have only caused one human death.