Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system, usually contracted from the bite of an infected mammal, and nearly always fatal without appropriate wound care and rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). For rabies PEP to be successful it must start as soon as possible and before clinical signs of rabies are evident. High-risk species for rabies in Illinois include bats, skunks, raccoons, fox and coyotes.
Rabies is an increasing threat to cats. The number of reported feline rabies cases in the United States far exceeds that of all other domestic animals. Even indoor cats are at risk, as many rabid bats are found in homes where cats are present. Because of the routinely fatal outcome of infection in cats, and the potential for human exposure, rabies vaccination for cats in Illinois was mandated in 2021. Unvaccinated dogs or cats exposed to an untested or rabid bat are recommended for euthanasia (or alternatively 4 months quarantine per the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians compendium recommendations.) to protect the family from any potential exposure to rabies. Routine rabies vaccination of cats and dogs can prevent the need for this outcome after exposure to a rabid or untested bat or a bite by an untested mammal.
If you find a bat or other wild high-risk animal in your house, state health officials recommend that you call your local animal control and health department. People should never touch a wild animal, as this may result in a bite and a possible exposure to rabies. Many people receive bites from bats when they attempt to capture a bat in their home themselves. If you find a bat in your home, you should put a container over the bat and close the door to that room. DO NOT ATTEMPT to pick up the bat yourself. The bat should not be released from your home until you call local authorities to determine if the bat needs to be tested. If you release the bat without testing, you may be recommended for rabies PEP. The majority of bats (93 to 97 percent) will test negative for rabies, but if a bat is untested it has to be assumed to be rabid when considering the need for rabies PEP.
The identification of rabies in animals is on the rise in Illinois (where there have been more than 100 bats tested positive for rabies in 2008). Citizens and veterinarians should report any animal bites or any bat exposures to appropriate authorities. Pets should be vaccinated against rabies. Veterinarians should submit any animal suspected of having rabies to an appropriate laboratory for testing. State laboratories will test any high-risk animal for rabies if it has exposed either a person or a domestic animal.