Rabies is a viral disease primarily of animals caused by infection of the brain and spinal cord. People get rabies from the bite of an infected animal. In many areas of the developing world including Asia, Africa, and South America, it is attributable most often to dog bites. In the United States, where rabies in dogs has been largely eliminated, rabies is still widespread in wildlife. Bats, raccoons, skunk, and fox are the major reservoirs and serve as a source of potential infection for other animals and people.
In 1991, a resurgence of rabies in Connecticut followed the spread of rabies in raccoons from southern states and resulted in the first rabid domestic animals in the state since the 1940’s. The raccoon rabies outbreak reached Connecticut in March of that year, entering Fairfield County through New York state. Over the following 4 years, it spread to all eight counties and remains present throughout the state.
Rabies testing done at the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) Laboratory allows the DPH to monitor the occurrence of rabies among wild and domestic animals. Results are also important to guide the medical management of patients exposed to potentially rabid animals.
After an incubation period that is usually 3-8 weeks, symptoms in people progress over the course of several days from a flu-like illness to encephalitis that may be characterized by confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and muscle paralysis. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is fatal. However, disease can be prevented by thorough wound cleaning and timely medical treatment that includes administration of one dose of immune globulin (antibodies) and 4 doses of vaccine over 2 weeks.
Vaccination of domestic animals is an important component of rabies prevention programs. Connecticut state law requires vaccination of cats and dogs. In addition, dogs must also be licensed.
When making decisions related to rabies post exposure prophylaxis, health care providers are encouraged to refer to “Use of a Reduced (4-Dose) Vaccine Schedule for Postexposure Prophylaxis to Prevent Human Rabies: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) - 2010”.
Important Contact Information:
The Department of Public Health, Epidemiology and Emerging Infections Program for questions regarding human exposures at 860-509-7994.
The Department of Agriculture, Animal Control Division for questions regarding domestic animals at 860-713-2506.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Wildlife Division for questions regarding wildlife at 860-424-3011.
The local police department when prompt assistance is needed.
Rabies Fact Sheet
Request for Rabies Examination Form