What is Rabies?

Rabies is a dangerous viral infection endemic to many countries. According to the World Health Organisation, there are over 55,000 deaths caused by rabies every year (mostly in Africa and Asia). There is no cure or treatment for rabies. Once the infection has taken hold, it is almost always lethal. If you are travelling to a country with a high rabies risk, it is advised that you protect yourself with a preventative rabies vaccine.

The pre-exposure rabies vaccine is administered with an intramuscular injection and consists of three doses. The three doses need to be given within a specific time period, so you should begin the treatment at least one month before travelling. You will receive the second dose 7 days after the first, the third dose should be received on the 28th day. If there isn't enough time then the third dose can be administered on the 21st day.

Rabies occurs on all continents and is endemic to over 150 countries. The rabies virus kills over 55 000 people every year, primarily in Africa and Asia. 

It is passed from animals to humans, usually as the result of an animal bite. Once the virus has entered the bloodstream, it quickly spreads to the brain and nervous system, causing rabies symptoms such as itchiness at the infection site, fever and an irrational fear of water. Rabies patients also typically show aggressive behaviour. 

Every year, more than 15 million people receive a post-exposure vaccination to prevent the disease from breaking out after an animal bite. Many of those affected by human rabies are children, who are drawn to animals and often unaware of the dangers.

Countries with a particularly high risk of rabies include all countries on the African continent, large parts of Asia and South America. Before travelling, always ensure you are aware of the rabies risk at your travel destination.

The rabies vaccine is used to prevent an infection prior to travelling to a high risk area. It is also used to prevent the illness from spreading to the nervous system after an animal bite. As medical treatment is not always readily available in countries with a high risk, it is important that you protect yourself with a rabies injection before leaving the country.

The vaccine can cause temporary side effects. The most common rabies vaccine side effects are a mild fever, headache, muscle pain and vomiting. You may also notice a rash or redness and swelling at the site of the injection. These side effects will disappear within 2 to 3 days.

You should avoid touching animals while abroad and always seek medical help if you have been bitten. Although rabies is most commonly caught from dogs, the illness can be transmitted by all animals which carry the virus, including bats. 

If you notice any bites or scratches after being in contact with an animal, wash the wound carefully and seek advice at a local hospital. If you are travelling with children, please ensure they are aware that they must not touch any animals.

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