What is Rabies?

Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats, and rabbits rarely are affected by rabies and are not known to have transmitted rabies to humans.

Domestic animals account for less than 10% of the reported rabies cases, with cats, cattle, and dogs most often reported rabid.

The last confirmed case of human rabies in Virginia occurred in 2009. Prior to that, the last confirmed human deaths in Virginia associated with rabies were bat rabies cases in 1998 and 1953.

Bats and Rabies

Most of the recent human rabies cases in the United States have been caused by rabies virus from bats. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help people protect themselves, their families, and their pets.

  • If a bat is found indoors and may have had contact with someone, do not release it.  Please call the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria at 703-746-4774 to determine if the animal should be picked up and tested for rabies.
  • Have all dead, sick, or easily captured bats tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets occurs.
  • Prevent bats from entering occupied spaces in homes, schools, and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets. Be sure to cap chimneys with screens and block any other openings to porches, attics and cellars.


Signs of Rabies

Some symptoms of rabies include:

  • Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Erratic walking as if drunk, walking in circles or with an unsteady gait
  • Extreme lethargy exhibited by an animal that would normally startle and run away when frightened
  • Unexpected aggression from an animal that would normally startle and run away when frightened

Not all rabid animals display these behaviors. Many times, animals with mange or distemper are mistaken for rabid animals. Additionally, some people assume that if a nocturnal animal spotted during the day has rabies. This is not always the case. Many animals (including raccoons, opossums and foxes) have become habituated to humans and will seek out food when hungry—even during daylight hours.  If you see a wild animal that appears to be in distress, please call the League at 703-746-4774. Our staff is trained to answer questions about wild animals and respond when wildlife are injured or in distress.


How to Keep You and Your Pets Safe

  • DO NOT FEED OR APPROACH WILD ANIMALS. Never encourage a wild animal to approach you, your child or pet. Even the cutest animals can scratch or bite when startled or when they feel threatened.
  • Vaccinate your pets against rabies. State law and City ordinance require that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies.
  • Never leave your dog unattended in the yard and do not allow your cat to roam the neighborhood—pets can be harmed by other animals or injured by cars.
  • Do not approach a stray or unknown dog or cat on the street. Every animal’s temperament is different, and every animal can bite if he or she feels threatened. If a stray animal needs help, call the League at 703-746-4774.
  • If a wild animal has entered your home, call the League immediately for assistance. Do not attempt to trap or touch the animal.

If you or your pet have been bitten by another domestic or wild animal, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water. If bitten by a domestic animal, ask the animal’s owner for proof of the pet’s rabies vaccination and report the bite to the League. If bitten by a wild animal, wash the wound and try to keep the wild animal in sight, and contact the League. An animal control officer will attempt to locate and trap the animal. Contact your doctor or veterinarian for further wound care instructions.

For more information on rabies, visit the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/rabies/) and the Virginia Cooperative Extension (http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/420/420-036/420-036.html).