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Rabies in Humans

Questions and Answers
  1. What is rabies?
  2. How do people get rabies?
  3. What is a non-bite exposure?
  4. What is the incubation period of rabies in humans?
  5. What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?
  6. What medical attention do I need if I am exposed to rabies?
  7. How many cases of human rabies have been reported in Canada?
  8. What is the role of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources?
  9. What is the role of my local Public Health Unit?

What is rabies?


Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of warm-blooded mammals, including humans. Once symptoms of rabies appear, it is almost always fatal.


How do people get rabies?


People are usually exposed to rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. In rare cases, people are exposed to rabies by non-bite exposures. All bites, regardless of location, represent a potential risk of rabies transmission.


What is a non-bite exposure?


Scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth) that become contaminated with virus-containing saliva or other potentially infectious material from a rabid animal constitute non-bite exposures. Non-bite exposures from animals rarely cause rabies.

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What is the incubation period of rabies in humans?


The incubation period, which is the time period between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms, can range from approximately three weeks to eight weeks, but can be as short as nine days or as long as seven years. The incubation period depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the wound, the location of the bite and the susceptibility of the person to infection. People who are immuno-compromised will most likely be more susceptible to rabies.


What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?


In humans, rabies usually begins with fever, cough, or sore throat and is followed in several days by more serious and rapidly progressing symptoms such as hallucinations and seizures.


What medical attention do I need if I am exposed to rabies?


If you are bitten by an animal or if infectious material (such as saliva) from an animal gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound, then you should wash the area with soap and water immediately. Washing immediately can greatly reduce the chances for infection. Contact your doctor or your local health department immediately as they can help determine your risk of exposure to rabies. Rabies vaccinations will be administered promptly if the risk of exposure to the virus is high.


How many cases of human rabies have been reported in Canada?


Human rabies cases are very rare in Canada. For the most recent information on the number of rabies cases in Canada, visit the Notifiable Disease On-Line section on the Public Health Agency of Canada Web site.

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What is the role of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources?

The Rabies Research and Development Unit at the Ministry of Natural Resources has a strategic plan in place to manage and research rabies in wildlife. This includes leading a program of preventative action involving local organizations as well as the provincial and federal governments. For more information on wildlife rabies prevention programs such as trap-vaccinate-release and aerial baiting, contact the Ministry of Natural Resources Rabies Information Line at 1-888-574-6656.


What is the role of my local Public Health Unit?

The goal of public health units is to prevent the occurrence of rabies in humans. This is achieved by increasing the public's awareness of the disease and by providing post-exposure treatment to persons exposed to animals suspected or known to have rabies.
For more information on rabies, contact your local public health unit.

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For more information
Call the ministry INFOline at 1-866-532-3161
(Toll-free in Ontario only)
TTY 1-800-387-5559
Hours of operation : 8:30am - 5:00pm
  
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