Thanks to widespread animal vaccines (given to people at high risk and those who may have been exposed to rabies), the number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has steadily declined since the 1970s.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, of the 4,910 animal rabies cases reported in the U.S. in 2016, the breakdown was as follows:3
- bats (33.5%)
- raccoons (28.6%)
- skunks (21.0%)
- foxes (6.4%)
- cats (5.2%)
- cattle (1.4%)
- dogs (1.2%)
In some cases, rabies is caused by a scratch from an infected animal.
There have also been reports of rabies being transmitted by infected saliva that has entered the air, usually in bat caves. These cases are very rare.
In theory, it’s possible that human-to-human rabies transmission could occur through bites. However, this theory has never been confirmed.