Melnick, Joseph L. Department of Virology and Epidemiology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.
Last reviewed:March 2020
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An acute, encephalitic viral infection in mammals. Rabies is a zoonotic disease caused by a rhabdovirus [specifically, a ribonucleic acid (RNA)–containing virus belonging to the genus Lyssavirus in the family Rhabdoviridae] that affects the mammalian central nervous system (Fig. 1). Rabies is transmitted predominantly to humans and other mammals by the bite of a rabid animal. In most cases that involve a human being, the rabid animal is a dog. Unless treated immediately and properly, rabies is almost invariably fatal in humans. However, infection in other animals may take other courses than fatal encephalitis (brain inflammation). Some infected animals show chiefly paralytic signs, whereas others manifest encephalitic hyperexcitability and viciousness. In addition, bats may transmit the rabies virus for months while apparently not infected. See also: Animal virus; Central nervous system; Infection; Mammalia; Ribonucleic acid (RNA); Virus; Virus classification; Zoonoses
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