Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Should I get a rabies shot if I got bit by a stray dog?"
I think a stray dog bit me. It was in the park and had no tags. The bite hurts, but it seems to be healing okay. Do I need to get a rabies shot?
The short answer to your question is "yes" you should definitely get a rabies shot if bitten by a stray dog. Rabies is a viral illness that is zoonotic (meaning that it is passed to humans from animals), and causes acute encephalitis. It is typically passed from the bite of an infected animal (dog, raccoon, etc). Unfortunately the rabies virus has a significantly high mortality rate in humans if a person is infected, and no treatment is pursued. Some sources report that approximately 97% of rabies transmission worldwide is from dog bites. In the United States however, thanks to domestic dogs receiving the rabies shot, the rate of transmission from domestic dogs is exceptionally low. The virus infects peripheral nerves and as the infection progresses, it works its way toward the central nervous system. Ultimately it reaches the brain and causes acute encephalitis and usually results in death of the host. Some of the first symptoms include malaise, headache, fever, and pain. These can progress to uncontrolled excitement/abnormal moods, violent movements, and depression. While the chances that you actually contracted rabies from a dog bit in the United States should be very low, the high mortality rate if infected, and the fact that there is not good treatment, means that it is recommended to get post-exposure prophylaxis within ten days of the dog bite. I would recommend contacting your primary care physician, or going into an Emergency department to get treatment if you don;t have a primary care physician. I hope this is helpful, and I wish you all the best.