What is rabies?

Rabies, although rare in humans, is a severe viral illness that affects the central nervous system of humans and other mammals and is nearly 100% fatal. Since 1990, the number of reported cases in the United States has ranged from 1 to 6 cases annually. People get rabies from contact with the infected saliva or brain/nervous tissue, usually from the bite of an animal with rabies.

What to do if you've been bitten

If you have been bitten by any animal, or may have come into contact with a bat, you need to be evaluated by a healthcare provider and/or the Snohomish Health District to determine if PEP is necessary. The decision to start PEP is based on many different factors, including:
  • Type of animal
  • Surveillance information for the area where the animal exposure happened
  • Type of exposure
  • Whether lab testing is done (on the animal)

Rabies in Washington State and other areas

Different states or regions have different animals known to carry rabies. In Washington, bats are the only wild animals known to carry rabies. About 1% of bats in the wild are infected with the rabies virus. In other states, along with bats, the animals most often infected with rabies are raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes. Small rodents (i.e., squirrels, hamsters, chipmunks, rats and mice) and lagomorphs (i.e., rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans. The possibility of rabies in a domestic animal (i.e., dogs, cats, and ferrets) varies by region but is unlikely in Washington. In many developing countries around the world, dogs are a major source of rabies and therefore dog bites in those countries should be treated as a likely exposure to rabies.

Reduce you risk of exposure

Follow these steps to reduce your risk for exposure:
  • Make sure your home is bat-proofed. Bats give birth in the summer and the offspring do not fly until almost full-grown, usually by August in Washington. The best time to bat-proof is in the fall or winter, when they are hibernating. To avoid trapping bats inside a building, do not attempt bat-proofing from May through August.
  • Vaccinate all pets (especially dogs, cats and ferrets) against rabies.
  • Avoid any direct contact with bats and other wild or unfamiliar animals, especially sick, injured or dead ones. Teach your children this rule as well.