Causes of Rabies

The main causes of Rabies are:

  • Contact with an animal infected with the rabies virus
  • Exposure to the infected saliva of the animal through a cut or scratch. This allows the infected material to get transmitted from the animal to the human. There is also infectious tissue present in the nerves and brain. When the virus enters the body through bites, open wounds or the mucus membranes, it travels towards the major body organs.
The rabies virus may be transmitted in the following ways:

  • Bites, which are the most common way in which the virus spreads
  • Scratches caused by infected animals are less likely to spread the virus.
  • Close encounters with bats. The scratches and bites caused by bats are usually unconfirmed and hence treatment may be required after any close interaction with them.
  • In rare cases, rabies may spread through other ways. There was one instance recorded in which a couple of cave explorers inhaled bat secretions in the air and contracted rabies. In another instance, workers in a laboratory developed rabies after inhaling the concentrated virus.
The animals which are most likely to spread rabies include:

  • Skunks
  • Bats
  • Raccoons
  • Foxes
  • Woodchucks
  • Wild dogs
The rabies risk is high even when domestic animals like dogs and cattle are bitten by rabid animals. Vaccinating these animals helps to protect them against the disease. Some countries have also immunized wildlife and thus reduced the spread of the disease to domestic animals. People who are most at risk of developing rabies include:

  • Those who may be frequently or continually exposed to the rabies virus due to their occupation or area of residence.
  • Travelers who are remain outdoors for long periods of time in high-risk regions where access to emergency medical care is limited.
  • Children who live in or visit areas where rabies is prevalent.

Frequently asked questions
  1. Wolfgang Haupt, Rabies – risk of exposure and current trends in prevention of human cases, Vaccine, Volume 17, Issues 13–14, January 1999, Pages 1742-1749, ISSN 0264-410X, 10.1016/S0264-410X(98)00447-2.
  2. George M. Baer, 1 - The History of Rabies, In: Alan C. Jackson and William H. Wunner, Editor(s), Rabies (Second Edition), Academic Press, Oxford, 2007, Pages 1-22,I, ISBN 9780123693662, 10.1016/B978-012369366-2/50003-8.