What do I do if an animal bites me?
* Wash the bite with lots of soap and running water.
* Call your doctor to see if antibiotics or a tetanus shot are needed.
You will need a tetanus shot if it has been 5 years or more since your
* Report the bite to your local health department.
Animal bites are reportable incidents because of the possibility of
rabies transmission, which is a fatal disease. The ER or your doctor may do this for
What are my chances of getting rabies from an animal bite?
Getting rabies is unlikely. Most animals with rabies (bats, skunks,
raccoons) are wild. Any wild animal could have rabies, but rodents, rabbits, and squirrels almost never do. The last known cat in Indiana with rabies was in 1984; the last known dog was in 1989.
But if your pet is bitten by a rabid wild animal and has not been
vaccinated against rabies, it is possible they could get the disease
and pass it on to humans.
How is rabies spread?
Rabies is spread when saliva containing the rabies virus gets into broken skin.
Can I tell if an animal has rabies?
No, but stay away from wildlife and animals acting strangely. They could
What should be done with the animal that bit me or someone I care about?
A dog or cat can be held in quarantine for 10 days. If it doesn't get sick, it didn't have rabies.
If a wild animal or a stray dog or cat bites someone, it can be
the head sent to the Indiana State Department of Health Laboratory to be tested for rabies.
What if the biting animal isn't available for observation or testing?
The patient, the doctor, and the local health department will decide together if they think the animal might have rabies and if the patient should be treated with the rabies vaccine.
What are the rabies shots like?
The vaccine is given in a series of 5 shots over a 5 week period. Unlike in the past when rabies shots were to be feared, today they cause only minor discomfort.
Rabies shots are no longer given in the abdomen. They are
normally given in the upper arm (deltoid area).
What kind of vaccine is the rabies vaccine?
Although the two brands of vaccine available in the U.S. are prepared in different ways, both of them are made from
inactivated, or killed, virus. Both types are considered equally safe and effective. The vaccine is given in the deltoid muscle as a series of 3-5 shots.
Who should get this vaccine?
Rabies vaccine is recommended for:
* Persons in high-risk occupational groups, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, and certain laboratory workers
* Persons whose activities bring them in frequent contact with rabies virus or potentially rabid bats, raccoons, skunks, cats, dogs, or other species at risk for having rabies
* International travelers who are likely to come in contact with animals in areas where dog rabies is common, especially if they will have limited access to appropriate medical care
Can the vaccine protect you if you've already been exposed to rabies?
Yes. Fortunately, because rabies usually has a long incubation period, the body has time to respond and develop antibodies to a vaccine given after an exposure.
What does the post-exposure treatment include?
An exposed person who has never received any rabies vaccine will first receive a dose of rabies immune globulin (a blood product that contains antibodies against rabies), which gives immediate, short-term protection. This shot should be given in or near the wound area.
The post-exposure treatment also includes five doses of rabies vaccine. The first dose should be given as soon as possible after the exposure. Additional doses should be given on days three, seven, 14, and 28 after the first shot. These shots should be given in the deltoid muscle of the arm. Children can also receive the shots in the muscle of the thigh.
Properly administered post-exposure treatment for rabies has
never been known to fail.
Is an immunized person totally protected if bitten by a rabid animal?
No. A vaccinated person should receive two more doses of rabies vaccine; one dose immediately and one three days later.
Should I be concerned about rabies if I'm traveling outside the United States?
Yes. Rabies is a big problem in many other countries, especially in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Not only is dog rabies common there, but
post-exposure treatment for humans may be hard to obtain. If you are traveling to a country where rabies is common, you should talk to your health care provider about the possibility of being protected against rabies before your trip. Vaccination may be recommended depending on your planned activities and length of stay. Contact with all animals, including dogs and cats, should be avoided when traveling abroad.
Can a pregnant woman receive rabies vaccine if exposed to rabies?
Yes, she definitely needs to be protected against rabies disease; no fetal abnormalities have been reported with the rabies vaccine.
Who recommends this vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Thoracic Society all recommend this vaccine.
How safe is this vaccine?
Reactions after receiving the currently available vaccines are not common. Mild local reactions such as pain, redness, and itching at the injection site have been reported among 30%-74% of persons receiving the vaccine. More general reactions (e.g., headache, nausea, muscles aches, etc.) have been reported in 5%-40% of persons receiving the vaccine.
Serious reactions after vaccination are rare.
What side effects have been reported with this vaccine?
Most reactions to this vaccine are mild. Allergic reactions including swelling and non-serious difficulty breathing occurred in 6% of patients who received a booster dose of one type of rabies vaccine.
Who should NOT receive the rabies vaccine?
The rabies vaccine is not recommended for routine use in the general population. Anyone for whom the vaccine is recommended should not receive a dose when they are moderately or severely ill.
Can the vaccine cause rabies?
Technically reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 2005
Where can I get more information?
You may call your doctor or local health department for information on animal bites and rabies.