Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals. The virus is usually passed on through the saliva of the infected animal. Rabies is a public health concern because humans can become infected and it is nearly 100% fatal without treatment.
It takes about 1 to 3 months for the virus to move from the bite area to the brain, where it then spreads to the salivary glands and then other tissues. Infected animals may show strange behaviors such as jumpiness, lack of fear, or aggression. Other symptoms include loss of coordination and paralysis, which will eventually lead to coma and death within 1 to 10 days.
Sometimes infected animals will appear normal. Symptoms can vary widely and resemble many other neurological conditions, so a diagnosis cannot be made just from these signs alone. However, abnormal behavior is the most common sign.
If bitten by an animal you think may be rabid, wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, then see a doctor immediately! If treatment is given before symptoms appear, development of rabies is usually prevented.