Rabies is a viral disease that can affect all mammals, including humans. The virus attacks the central nervous system and can be secreted in saliva. Because rabies affects people as well as animals, control of this disease has become a top priority for the Division of Animal Health. With the cooperation of the Department of Public Health and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, every angle of potential rabies exposures gets covered in order to prevent further rabies infections.
Although bat strain rabies has been known to exist in Massachusetts since the 1960's, a small bat population in the state and infrequent exposures limited the need for widespread awareness and control. The raccoon rabies epidemic beginning in 1992 posed new problems for public health officials. Since raccoons are so prevalent in rural and suburban areas, the potential for a large number of human and domestic animal exposures rose.