What is Rabies?

Rabies is a preventable viral disease of all mammals that is transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal. Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear. The virus attacks the nervous system and affects the brain and spinal cord. In Maryland, rabies is most frequently found in wildlife, most commonly raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats. Domestic animals, including livestock, are also at risk, and cats are the most frequently identified rabid domestic animal. 

How to Stay Protected Against Rabies

  • Vaccinate your dogs, cats and ferrets regularly. (For more information on our Free Rabies Vaccination Clinic,  click here).
  • Do not let your pets roam free.
  • Enjoy wildlife from a distance.
  • Teach children to stay away from animals they don't know.
  • Cover garbage cans securely and do not leave food outside.
  • Prevent bats from entering your home.
  • Report bites, bat sightings, and other animal exposures by calling 301-279-8000. 

Rabies in humans can be prevented by getting rabies shots. Rabies shots given soon after an exposure will prevent rabies. Pre-exposure rabies vaccinations should be considered if you:
  • Have frequent contact with potentially rabid animals; or
  • Will be traveling in a foreign country and you are likely to come in contact with animals in an area where dog rabies is common and prompt access to appropriate medical care may be limited.

If You are Bitten by an Animal:

  • Wild animals should be trapped if it can be done safely. If the animal must be killed, try not to damage the head. Rabies testing can only be done post-mortem on the animal's brain tissue. If the brain is damaged, testing may be inconclusive.
  • Consider treatment if a bat was present and exposure cannot be reasonably ruled out. (e.g., a sleeping person awakens to find a bat in the room, or an adult sees a bat in the room with a previously unattended child or mentally disabled or intoxicated person). Although people usually know when a bat has bitten them, bats have small teeth that may not leave marks on the skin.
  • If an owned animal has bitten you, get the animal owner's name, address, and telephone number.
  • Immediately wash the wound well with soap and water; if available, use a disinfectant to flush the wound.
  • Get prompt medical attention.
  • Immediately report the exposure by calling 301-279-8000. (If the attack is in progress, call 911)

Rabies in Montgomery County

Every year in Montgomery County, an average of 40 animals are confirmed to be rabid by laboratory analysis. While most of these animals are wild animals such as raccoons, foxes, and bats, there have been several rabid cats in Montgomery County over the last 5 years.

The fact that rabies has been found in cats in Montgomery County is of great concern because it shows the disease migrating from the wild animal population into domestic animals. Once the domestic animal population is affected by rabies, it becomes far more likely that a human will be exposed. The best way to protect our community and our children is to ensure that all dogs and cats have a current rabies shot and are licensed with the County. Keeping domestic animals continuously vaccinated erects a barrier to keep rabies away from humans.   Online  pet licensing is also available.

Indicators of Rabies:

Changes in an animal’s normal behavior may indicate rabies.

  • Wild animals may act friendly.
  • Domestic animal may act aggressive.
  • Rabid animals may appear sick and may stagger when walking, drool heavily or suffer from paralysis.

A nocturnal animal, seen outdoors acting normally during the daytime, is  NOT an indicator of rabies

Bats and Rabies:

The bat strain of rabies is present in our area and is often identified as the source of many human rabies cases nationwide. Bats have small teeth which may leave marks that are not easily seen. It is possible for a human to be bitten by a bat and not even know it. Any time a bat enters your homes living space you should call the Emergency Communication Section at 301-279-8000 so that an Animal Services Officer may respond to your home to assess the situation and capture the bat for rabies testing if necessary. If it was possible that a bite may have occurred, the bat will be tested for rabies.

Additional Information on rabies:
Maryland Department of Health