Is there an animal being weird in your yard? Were you confronted by some aggressive raccoons on your hike? Or have you noticed your pet being a little more “foamy” recently?

You should back off, my friend, because each of those animals is showing signs of one of the world’s deadliest viruses. Yes! Rabies. A single scratch from their mouth can infect you with this terrible disease and destroy your brain. Don’t worry.

Help is on the way. Rabies is an infection caused by a Lyssavirus, which means “rage poison” in Latin. It only infects the central nervous systems of mammals, changing their behavior and eventually destroying their brains.

An infected animal will become more aggressive, and it will probably bite other animals to keep spreading the virus. And, of course, this includes humans. Unfortunately, more than 60,000 people worldwide die of rabies every year. So we found the best ways you can avoid becoming just another one of those statistics.

How can you identify a rabid animal? If one bites you, how soon should you get medical attention? And has anyone survived rabies without using the vaccine?

Step 1: Beware the Drool

Most cases of rabies reported in the U.S. are in bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. So you could encounter a rabid varmint on your next hike. Common, easy-to-spot symptoms include aggressive behavior, loss of muscle control, dizziness, convulsions and constant drooling.

The virus spreads through the infected animal’s saliva. A rabid animal will develop hydrophobia, the fear of water. And it will produce more saliva, so it is ready to infect more creatures.

If you see an animal acting strangely, dizzy and drooling, do not try to help it. Walk away, and call animal control authorities. You can help to stop a deadly rabies outbreak.

Step 2: Don’t Pet the Raccoon

The early stages of infection are not easy to detect. The animal might be tired, have a fever, vomit and lose its appetite. You might not notice these symptoms if you decide to pet a cute raccoon during your hike, or if you enter a bat-infested cave.

So you’d better keep your distance, as these small mammals can carry this deadly, brain-destroying virus.

Step 3: Arm yourself

In developing countries with low rabies vaccination rates, stray dogs and cats are the main sources of infection. So don’t take any chances in those countries. Don’t pet stray animals and stay away from them.

In developed countries, rabies occurs in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks and foxes. When hiking in the wild, you should be prepared to face a rabid animal. Wear tall, thick boots.

Carry things that can help you defend yourself, such as walking sticks and bear spray. The animal’s size doesn’t matter. Even the smallest bat can infect and kill you.

Step 4: Run to the Doctor

You fought, my friend, but you lost. The animal bit you. But all is not lost. Now time is crucial. You need to go to a hospital immediately and take the rabies vaccine on the same day of exposure.

Doctors will apply booster vaccines on days three, seven and 14 after the exposure. You’ll also need to start post-exposure treatment for rabies.

If a stray dog bites you and doesn’t know its vaccination status, doctors should start treatment anyway and keep the animal under observation. Ten days later, if it is still healthy, you’ll be OK. Then doctors can give you the pre-exposure treatment.

Step 5: Protect Your Brain

After rabies enters your body, it travels into the nerves all over your body, your spinal cord and brain at an estimated speed of 12–24 mm each day. After it gets there, it’s too late.

When a bat bit 15-year-old Jeanna Giese in Wisconsin, she thought it was not a big deal. But three weeks later she started feeling the symptoms of rabies. It was too late to give her the vaccine.

Doctors put her in a coma to shut down her brain and give her body the chance to fight the rabies virus. Miraculously, her body fought the infection. Now, she’s the only person who has survived rabies without taking a vaccine.

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