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Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system. It is transmitted from an infected animal to man and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear.  All warm-blooded animals are susceptible to rabies.  Rabies is almost always contracted by exposure to a rabid animal. The exposure is usually through a bite, but scratches and saliva contact with broken skin are also possible routes.  Early symptoms include irritability, headache, fever and sometimes itching or pain at the site of the exposure. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium and death.

Exposure of man to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If preventive treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, most cases of rabies will be prevented. Untreated cases will invariably result in death. That is why it is important for you to see a physician immediately if you are bitten by an animal especially a wild animal.

What can be done to prevent the spread of rabies?

Exposure to rabies may be reduced by avoiding contact with all stray dogs and cats, having pets vaccinated, staying away from wild animals, and avoiding contact with any animal acting abnormal.  Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild animals by leaving trashcans uncovered. Never “adopt” a sick or wild animal. A veterinarian should examine your pet if it is bitten by a wild animal.

Animal bites and rabies are reportable in the District of Columbia.  The Division of Epidemiology - Disease Surveillance and Investigation (DE-DSI) investigates all cases of humans bitten by animals.  To report an animal bite, contact DE-DSI at (202) 442-5836.

Physicians: To report rabies to the Department of Health, please complete the Communicable Disease Case Report Form.

View a complete list of disease factsheets offered by the Division of Epidemiology- Disease Surveillance and Investigation.

Additional information on Rabies can also be found on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at

View a complete list of disease factsheets offered by the Division of Epidemiology- Disease Surveillance and Investigation.

Reportable Diseases in the District of Columbia [PDF]


Service Contact: 
Division of Epidemiology- Disease Surveillance and Investigation (DE-DSI)
Contact Phone: 
(202) 442-5865
Contact Fax: 
(202) 442-8060
Contact TTY: 
Contact Suite #: 
5th Floor
Office Hours: 
Monday to Friday, 8:15am to 4:45pm