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Rabies – signs and mode of transmission

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Once symptoms appear, rabies is always fatal in animals and people. In Canada the animals that most often transmit rabies are foxes, skunks, bats, and raccoons. Rabies is transmitted through saliva -- primarily via bite wounds. But it can also be spread by infected saliva entering an open cut or wound, or contacting a mucous membrane, such as those in the mouth, nasal cavity or eyes. When the virus enters the animal's body, it spreads through the nerves to reach the brain. Once it's in the brain it multiplies quickly, and that's when clinical signs appear. The virus then moves from the brain to the salivary glands and other parts of the body. Animals with rabies may show a variety of different signs. Most of them relate to the effect of the virus on the brain.

Rabies can appear in two basic forms, dumb rabies and furious rabies. With dumb rabies, animals may appear depressed and try to hide. Wild animals may lose their fear of humans, and appear unusually friendly. Dumb rabies may also cause paralysis, often of the face and neck or the hind legs. With furious rabies animals may become very excited and aggressive. Periods of excitement usually alternate with periods of depression. The animal may attack objects or other animals and may even bite or chew their own limbs.

Pigs housed indoors are extremely unlikely to be exposed to rabies. Good biosecurity procedures which prevent wild animals entering the pig barn will remove the risk of contact with pigs.

For more information on this disease consult the CFIA website