Rabies is a viral infection of the brain that causes irritation and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The rabies virus is present in the saliva of infected animals. An animal with rabies transmits the infection to other animals or humans by biting and sometimes licking. Many different animals can transmit rabies to people. Although dogs are frequently the source of infection for people, cats, bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and others may be responsible. Steps to prevent rabies can be taken before exposure to the rabies virus.
A vaccine can be administered to people at high risk for exposure to the virus. These people include veterinarians, laboratory workers who handle potentially infected animals, people who live or stay more than 30 days in developing countries where rabies in dogs is widespread, and people who explore bat caves. Vaccinations give most people some degree of protection for the rest of their lives, however, antibody levels fall with time, and people at high risk of further exposure should receive a booster dose of vaccine every two years.