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Travel Profile: Rabies

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Rabies exists all over the world on every continent except Antarctica. Before you travel, you should assess the risk in your destination, and take preventative measures if that risk is high.

What is rabies?

Rabies is an acute viral infection that causes inflammation of the spinal cord and the brain. It can be fatal to humans and animals if not treated urgently.

Rabies virus is present in the saliva of infected animals. Humans are normally exposed to rabies through a bite or scratch from a rabid animal, however the virus may also be caused through a lick on broken skin or a lick on the eyes, nose or mouth. 99% of rabies transmissions to human is caused by dogs.

Where is rabies most prevalent?

Rabies is found throughout the world, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.

All mammals (including monkeys) can carry rabies, but it's most common in:

  • dogs

  • bats

  • jackals

  • raccoons

  • cats

  • foxes

  • mongooses

A meerkat sitting on a rock.
Rabies virus is present in the saliva of infected animals.

Symptoms of Rabies

Without treatment, the symptoms of rabies will usually develop after 3 to 12 weeks, although they can start sooner or much later than this.

The first symptoms can include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above

  • a headache

  • feeling anxious or generally unwell

  • in some cases, discomfort at the site of the bite

Other symptoms appear a few days later, such as:

  • confusion or aggressive behaviour

  • seeing or hearing things (hallucinations)

  • producing lots of saliva or frothing at the mouth

  • muscle spasms

  • difficulty swallowing and breathing

  • inability to move (paralysis)

Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal, however there have been no recorded deaths from rabies in people who have been vaccinated, so make sure to get vaccinated before you go.

Whether or not you’ve had the vaccine, if you are bitten or have contact with an animal you are concerned about, seek medical attention urgently. Without the vaccine, you must receive immunoglobulin within 24 hours of exposure and will need a further 5 vaccines. Post exposure treatment isn’t always available in developing countries, so getting vaccinated before you go could save your life.

Those who have had the rabies vaccine will develop antibodies in their blood against the virus and therefore have more protection against rabies.

Recommendations for travellers

Check the rabies risk at your destination and know the location of reliable medical attention. Avoid contact with all animals, including pets!

Vaccination is recommended for all travellers visiting risk areas. Especially travellers who intend to:

  • Activities such as trekking, cycling/running,

  • Be distant from medical attention

  • Have contact with animals e.g. in sanctuaries.

You’ll need 3 vaccines over a period of 28 days, so book your first dose as early as possible.

Facts/ Did you know?

  • Rabies is not spread through unbroken skin or between people.

  • Post-exposure treatment is nearly 100% effective if it's started before any symptoms of rabies appear.

  • The UK has been rabies-free since the beginning of the 20th century, with the exception of a rabies-like virus in a species of wild bat called Daubenton's bats.

  • Children are at greater risk as they are less likely to avoid animals.

  • Some infected animals may behave strangely, but sometimes there may be no obvious signs they're infected

  • You should also avoid touching dead animals

Our sources & for more information:


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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