What is rabies?

It is a vaccine preventable disease caused by a virus.  It is usually transmitted through saliva, usually from an animal bit.  This disease affects the nervous system (including the brain) of human beings and animals.  Symptoms include headache, fever, increasing difficulty in swallowing, excessive drooling, spasm or weakness, and strange behavior.  If not treated immediately, rabies kills almost all victims.

How do people get infected?

Most humans get infected after being bitten by an affected animal.  The infected animal may or may not show symptoms of rabies.  Wild and farm animals, bats and pets can carry the disease and infect people.  In Manitoba, the striped skunk is often known to carry the disease and infect farm animals and pets.

Animals with rabies often act strangely.  They may attack without cause.  Symptoms of rabies in animals include paralysis (muscle weakness), especially muscles of the hind legs and the throat.  Some animals may become aggressive.  Rabid bats may appear normal except for a gradual weakness and loss of flying ability.  Individuals should avoid contact with wild or unfamiliar animals.

Is there a cure for rabies?

No.  If rabies develops, there is no cure.  There is a rabies vaccine and a medication called rabies immune globulin (RIG) that must be administered early (following an exposure to a rabid or possibly rabid animal) to prevent the disease from developing.  The public health nurse or health care provider will provide you with information about these treatments if they are recommended to you or your family members.

Think you may have been exposed to rabies?

It is very important that you seek medical attention right away! Rabies in humans may take from 3 – 8 weeks to develop but symptoms may appear as early as 5 days to more than one year after exposure.  If you wait until the symptoms appear, it will be too late to start effective medical treatment.

If you are bitten by an animal, that animal may be needed for testing.  If rabies is suspected, the tests of the brain tissues will determine if the animal was infected with the rabies virus.  If the suspected animal is a pet, public health officials will make recommendations as to what to do with the animal.  For example, they may recommend the pet to be placed in isolation (quarantine) for 10 days.  The animal would be destroyed and tested after quarantine.

How do I avoid getting the disease?

  • Vaccinate your pets against rabies and keep its rabies immunization up to date.  Otherwise, your pet could be infected by a rabid animal and your pet could in turn infect you.
  • If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, seek medical attention.  Your health provider will determine the risks if infection and rabies exposure and treat you accordingly.
  • If you are bitten scratched or licked by an animal that may have rabies or an animal that may have been exposed to the rabies virus, you should wash the wound immediately with soap and water for several minutes.  This will reduce the chance of the virus entering your body.  Seek medical attention right away!
  • If you do find a bat, dead or alive, do not touch it and do not let anyone around you touch it!  Just pick it up with a shovel and bury it.  Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.  If you can not bury the bat, pick it up with a stick (wear disposable gloves and put it in a plastic bag.) then put the plastic bag in the garbage. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.

Think your pet may have been exposed to rabies from another animal?

  • Limit the contact between the pet and humans.
  • Contact your pet’s veterinarian or advise for the situation or contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Animal Division during weekdays at 204-983-2200.

For additional information about rabies call 1-888-315-9257 or 788-8200 or your local public Health Office.