Rabies in Los Angeles  

Traditionally, rabies exists in two forms in a community.   The urban form, propagated chiefly by unimmunized cats and dogs, and sylvatic, propagated in North American by bats, coyotes, foxes raccoons and skunks.  Infection in domestic animals represents a ‘spillover” from sylvatic reservoirs of infection.  Prevention in people is achieved by eliminating human exposure to rabid animals.  Education concerning the hazards of contact with certain wildlife and domestic animal vaccination programs reduces human rabies.    

Postexposure prophylaxis with modern tissue culture vaccines, coupled with the appropriate use of immune globulin, is regarded as essentially 100% effective.  Preexposure vaccination of high risk people is recommended (animal handlers, cave explorers, laboratory workers and veterinarians).   

By 1960, mandatory vaccination of dogs in Los Angeles County largely controlled canine and human rabies.  This immune barrier has been established nationwide at a cost of over $300 million annually.  Cats can also be vaccinated for rabies but it is not mandatory and cat rabies is now more common than dog rabies in the United States.  With the widespread vaccination of cats and dogs in the United States, most endemic human rabies is a result of contact with rabid wildlife, particularly bats.   Bat rabies is diagnosed yearly in Los Angeles County.

 Rabies Dates in Los Angeles County

1898    ♦  First Confirmed Case of Animal Rabies in Los Angeles

An English gentleman, living close to the intersection of Third and Flower Street, told the Health Officer his dog, which was uncontrollable, might have rabies.  Confirmatory tests were run in Chicago. 

      ♦  City Council Required All Dogs Running at Large on Streets or Other Public Places to Be Muzzled 

1899     ♦    First Human Rabies Death in the City of Los Angeles

A Pasadena man was bitten on the nose by his cocker spaniel.  A few weeks prior to biting his owner, the dog had left home and was suspected of contracting rabies. 

1906     ♦   Second Outbreak of Canine Rabies   

In the spring, the City Health Officer visited the Soldiers Home, twelve miles west of Los Angeles, where an officer’s pet dog acted strangely, biting a man, five horses, several dogs, and hogs.  The head of the dog and the bite victim were transported to Chicago for testing and treatment.  The dog tested positive and the man was given the Pasteur treatment and survived.  Back in Los Angeles, the dogs that were attacked were immediately destroyed and the horses quarantined.  Two of the horses and a hog developed rabies. 

1909      ♦   Another Outbreak of Rabies in Los Angeles

In June, a police officer shot a collie dog with rabies.  Within a month, the police officer  shot three more suspected rabid dogs found within five blocks of the original dog.  Three months later, rabies was diagnosed in a horse by a Pasadena veterinarian.  A muzzling ordinance was passed the same month by the board of health. 

Some people denied that rabies existed.  Strong opposition by a few dog lovers, the humane animal officer, and some members of the board of health resulted in repeal of the ordinance the following week.  With the repeal of the muzzle ordinance, rabies spread rapidly in Los Angeles.  Numerous rabid dogs were reported in various locations within the city.  Four horses and a mule died of rabies. 

1910     ♦     A Child Died of Rabies and the Dog Muzzling Ordinance Was Reinstated 

1913    ♦  Second Largest Outbreak of Cattle Rabies in Los Angeles County, One Human Death

One evening, in a small retail dairy on the east side of Los Angeles, a dog with furious rabies ran into a corral attacking eight cows.  When the dairyman chased the dog away, it went to a different corral attacking another cow before leaving. 

1936        Most Rabid Livestock (10 Cattle, 2 Goats, 1 Horse) in Los Angeles County, Detected on 13 Premises

The livestock Department reported stray, homeless, and occasionally rabid dogs running rampant in all parts of the county south of the mountains, frequently attacking other animals and people. 

1937     ♦     Most Confirmed Rabid Dogs (847) in the City of Los Angeles.  Three People Died of Rabies

In the spring, a 57-year-old man saw a dog attack a group of school children, rushing over, he grabbed the rabid dog and was bitten several times, he held it until police arrived.  He later died of rabies.  In the fall, an Altadena veterinarian died of rabies. 

1955     ♦     A Rabies Epidemic Occurred in Dogs in the City of Los Angeles

70 rabid dogs.  52 people were bitten by known rabid dogs (most in the Watts/Compton area) with 1/300 reported dog bites from rabid dogs.  No human deaths. 

1956     ♦     Largest Rabies Outbreak in Cattle Occurred at the Spanish American Institute in Gardena

24 cows and 1 hog were diagnosed with rabies at the charitable home and trade school for boys, operated by the Methodist church.  One milk cow chased chickens, others pawed the ground pushing their heads against the fence and corrals.  An epidemic of rabies in dogs was occurring at the time and a stray dog had roamed though the boys home earlier. 

1964     ♦    Epidemic of Rabid Skunks (64) in Malibu and San Fernando Valley

Skunk rabies persisted in the area until the Malibu fire destroyed the population of rabid skunks. 

       ♦  Last Case of Rabies in Cattle in Los Angeles County

A Brahma steer from Mexico, three weeks after entering a feedlot in Newhall, charged other cattle attempting to bite them.


1966     ♦     Last Locally Acquired Rabies in a Domestic Animal

A Malibu dog had contact with a rabid skunk and later died of rabies. 

1970     ♦    Seven Rabid Skunks in Los Angeles County 

1973     ♦     Last rabid raccoon in Los Angeles County 

1975     ♦     Last Person to Die of Laboratory Confirmed Rabies in Los Angeles County

A 16-year-old girl from Mexico, who had been living in Los Angeles for eight months, became ill and hallucinating.  She was bitten by a dog while in Mexico.  The dog later disappeared. 

1979     ♦     Last Rabid Skunk in Los Angeles County

The Malibu fire in the early 1970s apparently wiped out the population of rabid skunks. 

1982     ♦     Most Rabid Bats (24) in Los Angeles County 

1987          Last Domestic Animal (Cat) with Laboratory Confirmed Rabies in Los Angeles County

A woman visiting Acapulco, Mexico, adopted a wandering cat who was later bitten by a stray dog.  The cat was ill when it arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport and was diagnosed as a rabies suspected within 48 hours by a San Fernando Valley veterinarian. 

History of rabies in Los Angeles County            July 1998 


  The last locally acquired rabies in a domestic animal was a Malibu dog that had contact with a rabid skunk and later died of rabies occurred in 1966.

 In 2004 a traveler from Thailand imported a rabid puppy into the Los Angeles International Airport.  The puppy was diagnosed as rabid by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Laboratory.  Multiple exposures to the puppy were investigated in Thailand and California.

 In 1987, the last case of confirmed cat rabies was imported into the Los Angeles Airport from Mexico.  A woman visiting Acapulco, Mexico, adopted a wandering cat who was later bitten by a stray dog.  The cat was ill when it arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport and was diagnosed as a rabies suspect within 48 hours by a San Fernando Valley veterinarian.

 First Human Rabies Case in 30 Years  On January 21, 2005, the Acute Communicable Disease Control Program (ACDC) received a call from the coroner to report pathology findings highly suspicious for rabies. The decedent, a 22-year-old man born in El Salvador, had been in Los Angeles for 15 months. Additional specimens for rabies testing were sent to the CDC who subsequently confirmed the rabies diagnosis.  On January 27, the CDC reported that the rabies variant is one not present in the U.S., but is a canine variant from El Salvador. Interviews with local household contacts and family members in El Salvador revealed no history of animal bites or exposures—however, canine rabies is endemic in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. As of February 15, contact tracing has identified at least 30 friends and family members whom rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is highly recommended. In addition, 9 of 76 healthcare workers at risk were identified to receive post exposure prophylaxis.