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Iowa Department of Health and Human Services

Rabies - Information for the Public

What is rabies?

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that can infect all mammals including humans. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.

What animals get rabies?

All mammals can get rabies. Animals in Iowa are infected with rabies every year; some animals are more likely to be infected than others. For example, wild animals (especially skunks and bats) most often get rabies. All domestic animals (such as dogs, cats, horses, and cattle) can be infected. Smaller mammals such as squirrels, mice, chipmunks, and rabbits rarely get rabies.

How do you get rabies?

Anyone can get rabies after exposure to a rabid animal. Rabies is spread when the virus from the animal's saliva gets through a person's skin via bites or contact to wounds or contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus can also be transmitted through contact with the infected animal’s brain or spinal cord tissue.

In addition, people found in rooms with bats that are unable to state, “I know I was not bitten,” may have been exposed to rabies. This would include persons who wake up to find a bat in the room or children alone with a bat in a room.

What should you do if you are bitten by an animal?

Immediately wash the bite or wound thoroughly with soap and water. Contact your health care provider to discuss whether you need rabies shots.

How can rabies be prevented?

  • Vaccination of pets against rabies is the best way to reduce human exposure.
  • Avoid contact with all wild animals.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Control of stray animals can decrease both animal and human exposure to rabies.


Iowa HHS provides consultation to help health care providers, veterinarians, and the public to determine whether a potential exposure occurred. Rabies exposure consultation can be obtained from the Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology:

During business hours call: (800) 362-2736

After hours call: (515) 323-4360 (the Iowa State Patrol will contact the person on call)

Additional Resources