Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals that affects the central nervous system causing encephalopathy leading to death. The virus is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. There are two forms of rabies: (1) dumb rabies, in which an animal acts sick, does not eat and is lethargic and (2) furious rabies, in which an animal shows aggressive and vicious behavior.
Over the past 100 years, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of human rabies cases due to the availability of a vaccine and vigilant surveillance by public health officials. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health investigates rabies cases and may quarantine exposed animals to prevent the spread of the virus.
The vast majority of rabies cases reported each year occur in wild animals such as skunks, bats, foxes, and raccoons. In Minnesota, the skunk strain and several different strains affecting bats are most common. Domestic animals account for less than 10 percent of the reported rabies cases nationally. In Minnesota, cattle, cats, and dogs are the domestic species most often reported as rabid.