Rabies | Animal Bites

Get medical help right away if you or a family member suffers an animal bite. Rabies is spread most often through an animal bite. Did the animal bite puncture or tear the skin? A wound can lead to rabies or other infections.

Go to your local urgent care, walk-in care or hospital for fast care and early treatment.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system. Left untreated, it is deadly. Animals in the U.S. known to carry rabies include bats, dogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks and coyotes.  

In other parts of the world, including Asia and Africa, stray dogs most often carry rabies.

Rabies vaccine for travelers

Are you traveling to a country where rabies is common? Talk to your doctor about getting a rabies vaccine before you go.

At MaineHealth, we offer travel medicine clinics at several locations that provide the vaccines against infectious diseases that adults and children will need to stay healthy and safe.

Talk to your provider about seeing an infectious disease specialist

Rabies risks

Anyone can get rabies if bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. Rabies is completely preventable by seeking immediate medical attention after possible exposure.

Teach children to avoid contact with bats, unfamiliar dogs, and wild animals. Be sure to vaccinate your own pets against the rabies virus.

Rabies symptoms increase with time

Don’t wait to see if you or a loved one has rabies symptoms. Waiting to get help can be deadly. A vaccine can stop the rabies infection. Early symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Weakness

Left untreated, symptoms get worse and include:

  • Sleeplessness

  • Anxiety

  • Confusion

  • Paralysis

  • Feeling agitated and nervous

  • Hallucinations

Does the animal have rabies?

Try to get a good look at the animal that bit you or a loved one. What type of animal is it? Is the animal acting strangely?  If you were bitten by a dog, try to find out from the owner whether the animal has been vaccinated.

Rabies screening and diagnosis

Testing the animal is the fastest way to diagnose rabies. A lab can tell within a few hours if the animal had rabies. Lab results can save a person from unnecessary testing and treatment for rabies.

Diagnosing rabies in people involves several lab tests.

Rabies treatment

Rabies is an urgent matter. Seek medical help for a bite that tears or punctures the skin.

  • Washing the wound with soap and water will help decrease your chance of infection.  Use antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage.

  • It is important to evaluate the risk of rabies right after the animal bite.  Stopping the rabies disease early requires an injection of human immune globulin and a series of rabies shots.

  • Go right away to your local urgent-care or walk-in care clinic, or the hospital emergency room.  You or a loved one may also need a tetanus shot if the last shot was more than five years ago. 

  • Treatment for an animal bite may require stitches and an antibiotic to prevent other kinds of infection.

Be sure to report any contact with a confirmed rabies case to your local Health and Environmental Testing Lab.