What is rabies?

Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva or neural tissue (i.e., brain, spinal cord) of infected animals. Only mammals can get rabies. Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of rabies, the disease is nearly always fatal. For that reason, immune globulin and rabies vaccine is recommended under certain circumstances to stop the rabies virus from infecting the body.

Some animals in Cook County are infected with rabies every year, but some are more likely to be infected than others. For example, wild animals (especially skunks and bats) most often get rabies. Rodents (such as squirrels, hamsters, and mice) and rabbits very rarely get rabies.

Local epidemiology

In 2016, 135 potential rabies exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) administration were reported to CCDPH. Bat exposures accounted for 62% of reported cases, 23% to domestic animals, and 15% as a result of other wild species. Only 43% of cases reported met ACIP criteria for PEP administration.

In Illinois, almost all cases of animal rabies occur in bats; however, most bats do not carry rabies. Around 4 percent of the sick or injured bats tested are positive for rabies each year. In 2016, 62 were positive, nine of whom were submitted for testing by Cook County Department of Public Health.

Reporting of animal bites and potential rabies exposures in Illinois

  • Animal bites are reportable to Cook County Animal Control.
  • Potential human exposure to rabies is reportable to Cook County Department of Public Health, including any administration of rabies PEP, within 24 hours. To make sure that a case is reported to CCDPH, please contact Infection Control at your hospital.