Rabies

SafeGard Travel Medicine physicians recommend the rabies vaccine for travelers who are likely to be at risk. The travel pharmacies we work with can provide the full pre-rabies vaccine series.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including humans. It is spread in the saliva of infected animals. Humans can be infected from licks, bites or scratches from infected animals such as dogs, bats, monkeys, raccoons, mongooses, etc. Early symptoms can include fever and tingling at the site of the exposure. Once symptoms appear, there is an ongoing progression of violent movements to inability to move limbs, which nearly always proceeds to death. Preventive vaccines or immediate post-infection treatment is absolutely critical.

How can I prevent rabies?

It is important for travelers to avoid contact with all animals, including pets, which may not be vaccinated. Children should be closely supervised. Keep any pets traveling with you from playing with or contacting local pets or wild animals and avoid bringing animals home.

If you will be involved in activities that may bring you into contact with animals such as domestic pets, wild dogs, bats, monkeys or other carnivores, you should consider pre-exposure rabies vaccination. This is a 3-shot series you should receive before travel. Persons who receive pre-exposure vaccination should still get immediate medical treatment if bitten or scratched by an animal.

Who should get the vaccine?

While rabies is worldwide, rabies in dogs remains a problem in much of Africa, Asia, Central and South America. In many of these areas preventive treatment may be hard to access in time. If traveling to countries with increased risk, rabies vaccination may be recommended. This is especially true for travelers who are more likely to come in contact with wild or domestic animals. This would include:

  • travelers involved in outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, caving, etc.
  • travelers who will be working with animals (veterinarians, wildlife professionals, etc)
  • children, who often play with animals
  • travelers with extended stays
  • travelers returning to their native country.

In countries where there is no appropriate rabies treatment available and you will need to be flown elsewhere for treatment if bitten, we recommend you strongly consider getting the pre-rabies series. Rabies, if contracted, is fatal unless the treatment is timely (3 days if unvaccinated and 7 days if vaccinated). Review travel availability to move from the areas you are in to an airport to be transported out if you get a bite. If you will be in a remote situation and it would take more than 5 days to get you from your site to a treatment center for further treatment, then consider the pre-rabies shots. Without them, after 5 days you may be incurable.