Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
For a human to get rabies, two things must happen.
First, you must have contact with a rabid animal.
Second, the contact must allow for the transmission of infected material, which will involve exposure to the saliva of the infected animal usually through a bite or scratch.
Contaminated tissue in the rabid animal includes
saliva. Other potentially infectious tissue is in the brain or nerve tissue.
The virus is transmitted only when the virus gets into bite wounds, open cuts
in your skin, or onto mucous membranes
(for example, into your eyes, nose, or your mouth). The virus then spreads from the site of the exposure to your brain and eventually spreads throughout your body's major organs.
Ways the virus is transmitted
Bites from infected animals are the most common source of transmission.
Scratches by infected animals are far less likely to cause infection but are still considered a potential source of rabies transmission.
Therefore, treatment might be necessary
after a close encounter with a bat.
In the large majority of cases of human rabies associated with a bat, a definite history of a bat bite or scratch can not be confirmed. It is unclear how the virus was transmitted in the other cases
-- perhaps by an undetectable bite.
Rabies has rarely been transmitted by other means. Examples include inhaling a large amount of bat secretions in the air of a cave by
two cave explorers and inhaling the concentrated virus in laboratory workers studying rabies.