Although the U.S. has had considerable success at preventing and controlling rabies during the past 80 years, exposure to rabid animals sends approximately 55,000 Americans to hospital emergency departments each year.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, said that vaccination programs for dogs and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, the vaccine and medicine people get to prevent rabies if they may have been exposed to a rabid animal, have contributed to a 95% decrease in annual rabies deaths in people.

However, more than a million dogs enter the U.S annually, including some 100,000 that are imported from countries where canine rabies virus variant is still found.

“Dramatic shifts have occurred in the United States in which animals pose the most risk for human rabies,” says Dr. Schuchat. While the type of rabies that normally circulates among dogs is less of a threat than in past decades, “wildlife reservoirs” for rabies are still present in the U.S. “The two most common ways that people get rabies in the United States today are through bites and scratches from infected wildlife like bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes, or from rabid dogs they may encounter while they’re traveling outside the U.S. Any mammal can catch rabies. Among all rabid animals detected in the United States, 32% are bats, 28% are raccoons, 21% are skunks, 7% are foxes, and 6% are cats. Unvaccinated dogs can still get rabies from wildlife, but currently dogs make up only about 1% of the reported rabies cases in animals in the United States.”

Seven out of ten American who die from rabies in the U.S. were infected by bats. Because bat bites are small - smaller than the top of a pencil eraser – people may not realize that they’ve been bitten by a rapid bat. A delay in seeking medical treatment for rabies can be deadly. Once symptoms are present, it’s generally too late for medication to help the victim.

“The bottom line is, rabies continues to be a threat in the U.S. and abroad and people should see their health care professional if they think they’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal and before symptoms occur.”

According to the CDC, stay safe by:

  • Leaving all wildlife alone.
  • Washing animal bites or scratches immediately with soap and water.
  • If you are bitten, scratched or unsure, talk to a healthcare provider about whether you need PEP.
  • Vaccinating your pets to protect them and your family.
  • If you find injured wildlife, don’t touch it; contact local authorities for assistance.

Click here for more information from the CDC and to see a map of common rabies carriers in your state.