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Rabies vaccinations for travel

Rabies vaccinations for travel
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World Rabies Day is September 28: do you know how to avoid exposure to this virus?

Rabies is a fatal viral infection that attacks the central nervous system. It is commonly contracted from an animal bite or scratch.

In North America, rabies affects skunks, bats, foxes and racoons; but worldwide, it’s most often contracted from dogs.

Is rabies a risk at my destination?

There is a risk of encountering an animal with rabies on every continent, except Antarctica. Some activities, like camping, running, cycling and caving, increase your risk of animal bites. And there are some occupations in which animal bites are a greater risk – for example, veterinary work, wildlife handling and zoology.

If you think you have been exposed to rabies, it’s very important to get medical advice straight away. Do not wait for your return to the US.

What should I do to reduce my risk of contracting rabies?

You can reduce your risk of contracting rabies by getting a pre-exposure rabies vaccine. You can get this before you travel by making a travel health appointment at one of our clinics. The rabies vaccination is given in three doses over three to four weeks. We recommend that you make your travel health appointment six to eight weeks before you travel.

While traveling in areas where rabies is more common, take steps to avoid being bitten by animals. Don’t approach or handle any mammals, particularly bats and dogs. Even animals that don’t appear sick can be infected with rabies. Children are at greater risk from rabies because they are more likely to play with animals. Teach them that it’s important to tell you if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.

What should I do if I’m bitten by a dog or cat while on vacation?

As soon as possible after being bitten by an animal, wash the wound site thoroughly with soap and water. Then seek medical advice. See a healthcare professional about an animal bite in a region where rabies occurs even if you have been vaccinated against rabies. Do not wait for rabies symptoms to show before seeking medical advice: once the symptoms of rabies occur, the disease is nearly always fatal. Do not wait to consult a doctor in the US if you think you have been exposed to rabies.

A doctor or nurse can assess the risk that you have been exposed to rabies and may recommend a post-exposure treatment to prevent rabies.

It is important to start post-exposure treatment for rabies as soon as possible if it is needed. You may need post-exposure rabies treatment even if you have been vaccinated against rabies.

Is post-exposure rabies treatment available at my destination?

You may have to travel to a city or even to another country to get effective preventative treatment for rabies. If you are at increased risk of exposure to rabies, or rabies is a particular concern for you, ask locally about availability of post-exposure treatment.

Discover more about avoiding rabies

This is our own information page about the rabies vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control has some advice about rabies.

The World Health Organization has a rabies factsheet.