Rabies Virus

Rabies virus

The Rabies Virus is an organism that frightens many people. It causes the disease known as Rabies.

Viruses are microscopic organisms, so you can't see them with your eyes. Other viruses you've probably heard of are flu viruses and AIDS. Scientists are still learning about viruses. They are not even sure where to put them when they organize other organisms, like plants and animals, into groups.

Copyright, Dr. Frederick A. Murphy

Scientists have split viruses into Orders, Families, and Genera (genus). You can see which groups the Rabies Virus is put into at the bottom of the page.

When scientists look at the Rabies Virus under a powerful microscope, they see that it is bullet-shaped (see pictures above). They also know it is covered with tiny spikes.

The Rabies Virus is transmitted by saliva. It passes from one animal to another when the first animal bites the second animal. Once the Rabies Virus is in the blood, it attacks cells. The virus incubates, which means it grows and changes (a lot like a baby bird in an egg). Then it moves through the nerves, up the spinal cord, to the brain.

Copyright, Dr. Frank Fenner

Once the virus is in the brain, it spreads quickly to the rest of the body. Then the host (infected animal) shows signs of the disease. An animal with Rabies first gets flu-like symptoms, including fever and headaches. Then, as the disease spreads, the animal's brain will not work properly. It will get confused, anxious, agitated, and delirious. It will not behave normally. The animal will hallucinate and it will not be able to sleep.

Animals, such as foxes and raccoons, which normally come out at night, may be out during the day if they have Rabies. The picture to the right, of a rabid fox, shows an animal not behaving normally.

The Rabies Virus can only be transmitted by warm-blooded animals. Any mammal, including humans, can be infected with the virus. However, only a few animals are important carriers of the virus. Foxes, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and a few species of bats are the animals who sometimes carry the virus and pass it on to other animals.

Just because an animal (or person) has been bitten by another animal carrying the Rabies Virus, does not mean it will get the Rabies disease. Doctors have developed medicines which can keep this from happening. Once an animal has the Rabies disease, however, there is no cure. The animal will die from the disease. Pets are given a shot of Rabies vaccination to keep them from getting the Rabies disease if they are bitten by an animal carrying the Rabies Virus.

The Rabies Virus is a parasite. It must have a host so it can replicate itself (breed).

The Rabies Virus incubates in its host for anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks before it spreads to the brain and starts the disease. Once an animal has the Rabies disease, it will die in about a week.

Different animals behave differently when they have the Rabies disease. Some wild animals lose their fear of humans and may attack for no reason. Other times, the animals jaw will drop, causing them to drool or "foam at the mouth."

Scientists are still trying to learn about the Rabies Virus and other viruses.

To learn more about the Rabies Virus, visit the link below:

Additional Media

Information Page
Link to Website
National Center for Infectious Diseases

Relationships in Nature:


Red Fox

Red Fox H


Raccoon H

Striped Skunk

Striped Skunk H


Human H

Relationship to Humans:

The Rabies Virus is dangerous for people and some have died from it, but very few people have died from Rabies in modern times. It is important to see a doctor right away if you have been bitten by a wild animal, especially a fox, raccoon, skunk, or coyote. You should also see a doctor if you are bitten by a stray dog or cat. All pets (dogs and cats) should have their Rabies vaccination from a veterinarian.

Rabies virus


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