What is rabies?
Rabies is a preventable, but deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It kills almost any infected human or mammal (e.g., raccoons, dogs, skunks, foxes). The rabies virus is mainly found in the saliva and brain of rabid animals. It can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in an open wound, the eyes, the nose, or the mouth.
You can only become sick with rabies if you have come into contact with the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal.
How can I prevent rabies?
You can prevent rabies in pets and people through a few simple actions:
- Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, and ferrets, and keep their vaccinations up-to-date.
- Contact your veterinarian if you are unsure whether your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
- You can visit the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s rabies and microchip clinic to receive low-cost rabies vaccination.
- If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, call the Animal Welfare League of Arlington at 703-931-9241. Also call the Arlington County Public Health Division at 703-228-5200, Option 1. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster rabies vaccination if bitten.
- Don’t let pets roam free. Limit the possibility of exposure to infected animals by keeping your pets on your property, or use a leash when away from home. Arlington County law requires pets to be leashed when away from home or outside of a County dog park.
- Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals that could bite you or your pets.
- Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, do not go near it and report it to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington at 703-931-9241.
What should I do if I have been bitten by an animal (domestic or wild)?
- Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water to greatly lessen the chance of infection.
- Confine the animal if you can safely do so (e.g., by closing a door or fence gate), or at least try to identify it before it runs away. Do not try to pick up the animal or capture it. Call the Animal Welfare League of Arlington to come get it.
- Notify your family doctor immediately and explain how you got the bite. Your doctor will want to know if the animal has been captured. If necessary, your doctor will give you anti-rabies treatment. Your doctor will also treat you for other possible infections that could be caused by the bite.
- Report the bite to the Arlington County Public Health Division at 703-228-5200, Option 1.
Where can I learn more about rabies?
For more information contact the Virginia Tech Community Extension Service, Arlington Campus at 703-228-6400.
Rabies Vaccination Exemption
You may request an exemption from rabies vaccination if your pet suffers from an underlying medical condition that is likely to result in a life-threatening condition in response to vaccination, and if an exemption would not risk public health and safety. For more information, download the Rabies Vaccination Exemption Form.