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NOTE: A surveillance case definition is a set of uniform criteria used to define a disease for public health surveillance. Surveillance case definitions enable public health officials to classify and count cases consistently across reporting jurisdictions. Surveillance case definitions are not intended to be used by healthcare providers for making a clinical diagnosis or determining how to meet an individual patient’s health needs.

Clinical Description

Rabies is an acute encephalomyelitis that almost always progresses to coma or death within 10 days after the first symptom.

Laboratory Criteria For Diagnosis

  • Detection by direct fluorescent antibody of viral antigens in a clinical specimen (preferably the brain or the nerves surrounding hair follicles in the nape of the neck), OR
  • Isolation (in cell culture or in a laboratory animal) of rabies virus from saliva, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), or central nervous system tissue, OR
  • Identification of a rabies-neutralizing antibody titer greater than or equal to 5 (complete neutralization) in the serum or CSF of an unvaccinated person.

Case Classification


A clinically compatible case that is laboratory confirmed


Laboratory confirmation by all of the above methods is strongly recommended.

The 1997 case definition appearing on this page was previously published in the 1990 MMWR Recommendations and Reports titled Case Definitions for Public Health Surveillance.1 Thus, the 1990 and 1997 versions of the case definition are identical.


  1. CDC. (1990). Case Definitions for Public Health Surveillance. MMWR, 39(RR-13), 1-43.

Related Case Definition(s)