Rabies & Public Health

This virus, found in the saliva of an infected animal and transmitted through a bite or scratch, manifests itself in two forms: “furious” rabies and dumb rabies. The symptoms, which appear anytime from two weeks to three months after exposure and vary in each species, cause marked changes in behavior. An animal with the “furious” form can become aggressive, disoriented, and snap or bite at anything in its path. An animal with the “dumb” form is unnaturally tame or friendly.

Although most mammals are susceptible to rabies, the virus affects (in order of highest numbers) raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and woodchucks most frequently. Birds cannot contract rabies.

If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to rabies, wash the area with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. The treatment of rabies no longer requires the series of shots in the stomach; it’s now quite simple.

Sick or injured animals can be unpredictable and dangerous, especially those susceptible to the rabies virus. If you find an animal, in either condition, stay away from it and do not attempt to handle it or move it. Contact your local police department and Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800. They will evaluate the situation and determine the next steps, including, whether or not the animal should be destroyed. The State of Massachusetts has mandated that these decisions be made by the local authorities.

Good judgment and common sense will eliminate the chances of rabies posing a threat to people and their pets. Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies. Avoid contact with wild animals and unfamiliar domestic animals, and be sensitive to unusual behavior patterns in pets. Obey state laws: It illegal to possess or transport and relocate wildlife. Learn more about wildlife and the law.