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Rabies Algorithm

Rabies Prevention Flowchart: Introduction

Important: First-time users are encouraged to read this introduction in its entirety, but at a minimum, they must read the "limitations and caveats" section.

By clicking on the hyperlink below to begin the algorithm, the user acknowledges that she/he has read the "limitations and caveats" portion of this introduction.

Skip this introduction and begin the algorithm

Purpose of this electronic flowchart

The goal of all rabies prevention information, including this electronic algorithm, is to prevent human cases of rabies while avoiding the unnecessary administration of post-exposure prophylaxis.

Fortunately, human rabies has become a rare event in the United States. Because of this rarity, however, rabies prevention is usually not a high priority for health care providers and law enforcement officers who commonly deal with animal bite victims. Therefore, it is up to public health practitioners to stay up-to-date with the latest information on rabies prevention so they can advise clinicians, police, and the public about current guidelines.

We hope that this computerized flowchart enables local health department staff to become more efficient and self-directed when managing commonly encountered rabies exposure situations.

Limitations and caveats

Although no set of general recommendations can address every possible rabies exposure scenario, this flowchart should be able to provide guidance for the management of the more common and straightforward situations that local public health department staff must address. This program was never intended to be all-inclusive of every contingency. In fact, some exposure circumstances were deliberately omitted from these recommendations, either because they are uncommonly encountered or because their complexities do not lend themselves to simple answers.

These guidelines are not meant to be a substitute for basic knowledge about rabies and its prevention, nor will they obviate the need for good judgment and common sense. It is the user's responsibility to recognize when the circumstances of an exposure are not exactly addressed by this algorithm, and in such cases, to consult with knowledgeable experts about such situations.

The user will need to scroll down when viewing some of the screens in this electronic algorithm in order to read them in their entirety. Some screens also contain footnotes. Please be sure to read the entire screen. Each screen ends with either a question to be answered by the user or with a line which reads "- END -".

This term "- END -" found at the bottom of certain screens denotes the endpoint of a particular line of questioning, concluding with a recommendation. By clicking the "back" button on your browser, the user can backtrack and follow a different branch of the decision tree to its conclusion.

Primary information source

This flowchart is based on information from multiple sources, both published and unpublished. The primary reference, and one which should be required reading for anyone involved with rabies issues:

Human Rabies Prevention U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 05/07/2008

An important revision at: CDC MMWR 03/19/2010

Additional information sources

Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control CDC MMWR 11/04/2011

Wisconsin stat. § 95.21 on rabies control

Consultation services

The Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health (DPH) offers consultation on situations involving potential human exposures to rabies. Local health department staff or health care providers can call 608-267-9003 during regular office hours, or the DPH emergency answering service at 608-258-0099 on nights and weekends in order to consult with an epidemiologist.

Questions regarding the submission of specimens for rabies testing to the State Laboratory of Hygiene (SLH), or about the reporting of test results, can be addressed to the SLH Customer Service at 800-862-1013 during regular office hours.

The SLH Rabies Requisition Form must accompany submitted specimens.

To consult about potential animal exposures to rabies, callers can contact Dr. Yvonne Bellay at the Division of Animal Health at 608-516-2664. It should be noted that domestic animals that are exposed to rabies constitute a very real threat to their human owners. Accordingly, Wis. Stat. § 95.21 also addresses animal exposures to rabies and defines circumstances under which such an animal is subject to quarantine.

This flowchart written by:
The Division of Public Health Bureau of Communicable Diseases Epidemiology Section

Last revised September 18, 2023