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Ch 4: Section four: What you need to know about wildlife diseases

Rabies

How do you catch it?

Rabies virus is found primarily in saliva and in the tissues of the central nervous system, especially the brain. It's usually spread through the bite of an infected animal.

It can also be transmitted if the animal's saliva or nervous tissue gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or an open wound or scratch. Airborne transmission is possible but rare—it's more of a concern for laboratory workers who handle animals, or in moist caves with little ventilation.

You cannot catch rabies from contact with blood, feces, urine, or scent glands. The rabies virus hitches a ride up the nerves, traveling directly from the bite wound to the brain. Later on, it may travel from the nerves to other organs, but it never enters the blood. That said, if the animal's head has been damaged, there could be spinal tissue or fluid mixed in with splattered blood. Animals may catch rabies by eating infected animals. Rabies might be passed from mother to offspring in the womb. However, when people encounter very young animals that are rabid, it's more likely that they were infected after they were born, either from contact with their mother or another rabid animal.

Although deadly, the rabies virus is actually fragile. It can be destroyed by exposure to sunlight (UV light).

Next Section (Rabies: symptoms)

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