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The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and other body fluids of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus can also be spread if one of these body fluids touches broken skin or a mucous membrane (in the mouth, nose, or eyes). In caves crowded with bats, it is possible to inhale the virus floating in the air.
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Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal. Rabies in humans is very rare in the U.S. but rabies in ground animals- especially wildlife- is common in some parts of the country. Rabies has infected ground animals in Massachusetts after 40 years of being found only in bats.
Until recently rabies was rare in this state. However, rabies in raccoons first appeared in Massachusetts in September 1992 and is spreading quickly.
How can rabies be prevented?
The rabies virus can infect any animal (if it has hair or fur, it's a mammal), but it is only common among certain ones like bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Cats, dogs, and livestock can also get rabies and spread it to their owners - if they do not have special shots to protect them. Rabies is very rare among rodents like squirrels, rats, mice, and chipmunks, Birds, fish, lizards, turtles, and insects (bugs) cannot spread rabies.
Rabid animals often behave strangely after the virus attacks their brains. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no real reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem to be unnaturally friendly. Not all rabid animals act this way, however, so you should avoid all wild animals, especially bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Also, you should not feed or touch stray cats and dogs.