Alberta Health Services
Rabies disease is an infection caused by a virus that affects the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves). Once symptoms start, people usually die from rabies.
Learn more about rabies.
People who have close contact with animals and lab workers who handle the rabies virus are at higher risk.
If you’re travelling, the risk of rabies depends on where you’re travelling, how long you’re travelling, what activities you’re doing, and the medical care in that area. Check with a travel immunization clinic for more information.
Children are at high risk because they’re more likely to approach animals and they might not tell someone if they get a bite or scratch. They’re also more likely to have a high-risk animal bite (such as a bite on the face or more serious wounds).
Rabies disease spreads from the saliva (spit) of an infected animal to humans through a bite, scratch, or a lick on an open wound.
The most common animals that carry rabies in Canada are skunks, bats, raccoons, and foxes.
Dogs are the most common animal that carry rabies in Asia and Africa, where most rabies deaths in humans happen.
Early symptoms include headache, fever, pain, and feeling tired. Symptoms change quickly to feeling confused, feeling very nervous or anxious (agitation), being unable to move (paralysis), and then death.
Symptoms can start as early as a few days or as late as several years after contact with the virus. How soon symptoms start depends on where and how serious the wound is.
Deaths from rabies are rare in North America. But worldwide, about 59,000 people die from rabies every year.
The rabies vaccine protects against the rabies virus.
Rabies disease spreads from the saliva (spit) of an infected animal to humans through a bite, scratch, or lick on an open wound (break in the skin). Learn about your risks and how to protect yourself and other people when you spend time around animals:
If you’ve had an animal bite or there’s a risk you’ve had contact with rabies disease, you might need rabies immune globulin. Immune globulins give quick, short-term protection.
For long-term protection, you need a vaccine. When you get rabies immune globulin, you also start a rabies vaccine series for long-lasting protection.
Learn more about rabies immune globulin.