Rabies virus infection most commonly occurs when a rabid animal bites an individual. Rabies can also occur when infected saliva from a rabid animal contaminates an open wound (one which was bleeding within the past 24 hours), a scratch or skin abrasion, or a mucous membrane.
In addition to saliva and the salivary glands, tissues and fluid of the central nervous system (i.e., brain and spinal cord) contain high amounts of the virus. Virus is rarely found in other body organs and fluids.
People cannot get rabies by just petting an animal or even by getting saliva contaminated with rabies virus onto their intact skin. In order for them to get rabies, the virus must come in contact with a recent wound or break in the skin or the virus must get onto their mucous membranes (such as into the eye or mouth). However, any physical contact with a bat is considered a possible exposure to the rabies virus and should be carefully evaluated for post-exposure rabies treatment. Bats have such tiny teeth that a bite may go undetected.