Rabies

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that infects the brain and spinal cord of mammals. The virus is spread from exposure to saliva or nervous tissue from an infected animal, usually through a bite. Scratches or saliva contact with a mucous membrane are also considered as exposure risks. Rabies is preventable if proper treatment is given before symptoms occur, but is fatal once symptoms are present.

The primary public health concern is to prevent people from developing rabies after a possible exposure. Any bite or scratch from an animal should be checked by a physician and reported to the county health department. Dogs, cats, and ferrets that bite or scratch a person will be required to undergo quarantine for a period of 10 days. The observation for clinical signs of rabies developing in the animal during the quarantine provides complete assurance for the person bitten or scratched that the animal did not infect the person from the bite. Unlike pets, wildlife species that bite or scratch cannot be quarantined because they may shed the virus longer than 10 days. Rabies tests can be performed in the laboratory on deceased animals that do not qualify for quarantine.

Rabies in Alabama

In Alabama, there are two different strains of rabies virus: the raccoon variant and the bat variant. The raccoon strain can infect other wildlife, such as foxes, coyotes, and skunks; but more importantly, it can infect people's pets. Vaccination of dogs, cats, and ferrets is required by law. Vaccinations for other species, such as horses and livestock are also available and recommended. Vaccinating animals help ensure protection should they unknowingly be exposed to a rabid animal. Other simple prevention methods are to keep pets properly confined or on leashes, avoid leaving trash or leftover pet food uncovered which may attract wildlife, and avoid handling bats.

The bat variant can also infect pets or people. Bats present a unique risk of rabies because their bites may be unknown or leave insignificant marks. If you should have bats in your house or bedroom, please contact your physician or local health department for consultation.

Quick Steps for Prevention:

1. Avoid being bitten or scratched. Get medical attention immediately and report to local health department.
2. Don't approach stray or injured animals or wildlife.
3. Don't handle bats.
4. Keep your pets and livestock vaccinated.

Frequently Asked Questions About Rabies

Physician and Provider Resources

Rabies Specimen Testing

Rabies Resources

Rabies Bite Manual

View the entire Rabies Bite Manual (8 MB) or by chapter below

Alabama Rabies Law


Page last updated: August 11, 2017