Our knowledge of orthopaedics. Your best health.

from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy


Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It is a disease that affects only mammals (such as raccoons, bats, dogs, cats, and humans). Without treatment, rabies is fatal.


Rabies develops in two stages.

The first stage can last up to 10 days. During this stage, the individual may have a headache, fever, decreased appetite, vomiting, and general malaise. Pain, itching, and tingling may be experienced at the wound site.

The second stage includes difficulty in swallowing, agitation, disorientation, paralysis, and coma. Once these symptoms appear, there is no known, effective treatment. 

This is why it is important to identify the animal that caused the bite. The animal may either be captured and observed for signs of rabies or the brain can be examined for signs of the virus.


If you or a family member is bitten by an animal, wash the wound with soap and water, and contact your doctor. If necessary, a series of vaccinations can be administered to prevent rabies. These vaccinations are highly effective.

It is also important to contact animal control. The animal may be captured and observed for signs of rabies, or the brain can be examined for signs of the virus.

Prevention of Animal Bites and Rabies

Follow these recommendations to prevent animal bites.

  1. Do not try to separate fighting animals.
  2. Avoid animals that appear to be sick or seem to act strangely. Call animal control.
  3. Leave animals, even pets or other animals you know, alone when they are eating or sleeping.
  4. Keep pets on a leash when they are out in public.
  5. Never leave a young child alone with a pet.
  6. Do not allow children to tease an animal by waving sticks, throwing stones, or pulling a tail.
  7. Vaccinate all pets.
  8. Do not approach or play with any kind of wild animal.
  9. Teach children not to pet strange animals, even pets on a leash, without asking permission from the owner first.

Last Reviewed

September 2013

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.