Rabies is a fatal, viral infection of the brain, which is why it is so important to avoid contracting it. The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals (such as dogs, cats, monkeys and bats). It is not always possible to recognise that animals are infected with rabies; some can carry the disease without there being any obvious signs. Be especially wary of animals that are aggressive and agitated.
How is rabies transmitted?
You can come into contact with the virus if an infected animal bites you, or if it scratches or licks you. The virus enters the body through skin wounds or via mucous membranes (eyes and mouth). Once the virus gets into the nervous system it will develop into rabies and recovery will no longer be possible. However, it it possible to prevent the virus from entering the nervous system.
When should you consider getting a vaccination?
You should consider getting a rabies vaccination if there is clearly an increased risk of being infected. This depends on the country you are visiting, the duration of your stay and any possible contributing factors (such as work or other activities that might involve you having higher than usual contact with animals).
The rabies vaccination comprises a course of three injections, given over a period of three weeks. This series will only give you partial protection against rabies. After (a possible) infection you will need a course of two more injections, which must, if possible, be started within a period of 24 hours. Even if you only suspect you might have been infected you should seek immediate medical help.
The advantages of being vaccinated against rabies:
- you will not need an antidote after being bitten (this is usually not available or of poor quality in less developed countries)
- you will only need two injections after being bitten, rather than five (and in less developed countries the vaccinations are of poor quality, which means they have many side-effects)
Whether you have been vaccinated or not, the following advice is always important. If you are in a country in which rabies is endemic and you are scratched or bitten by an animal always consult a doctor for further examination. Don’t wait before doing so; do it as soon as you can.