Rabies is a very serious viral infection of the brain and nerves and is usually caught from the bite or scratch of a rabid animal, most often a dog. Rabies is not found within the UK, besides a small number of bats. However, rabies is found throughout the world, particularly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America.
The symptoms of rabies usually begin to appear after 3 to 12 weeks. Although this is the common time frame they can begin sooner or much later.
Once symptoms begin to show, rabies is almost always fatal. Treatment then will be focused on making the patient comfortable.
Early symptoms include:
- a headache
- sometimes, discomfort in the area of the bite/scratch
- feeling unwell
- a high temperature (38C or above)
Additional symptoms will begin a few days later, such as:
- aggressive behaviour or confusion
- frothing at the mouth (an excess of saliva)
- muscle spasms
- difficulty breathing and swallowing
Although rabies often proves fatal if symptoms begin to appear, there are a number of immediate steps to take after possible exposure, as post-exposure treatment is nearly 100% effective if it’s started before any symptoms appear.
These steps are as follows:
- Immediately clean the wound (with soap and running water) disinfect the wound with iodine- or alcohol-based disinfectant
- Apply a simple dressing
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible receive a course of rabies vaccine
Prevention and Vaccination
When travelling to an area of the world where rabies is common, it is advisable to take preventative measures and get the rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine is of greater importance if you plan to stay for a month or more, plan to do activities that potentially increase your exposure to animals (e.g., running and cycling) or you are in an area where quick medical care is unavailable.
A full course of vaccination will prime the immune system so that efficient antibody response is available post exposure. The course of vaccination consists of 3 injections in your upper arm over a 28 day period. Therefore, your course of vaccination should ideally begin around 4 weeks before your departure. An accelerated schedule can be administered over a 7 day period. An additional dose should be sought after a year if you continue to travel to high-risk areas.
Some people will experience temporary soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site for 24 to 48 hours after receiving the rabies vaccine. In rare cases, some people experience a headache, muscle aches, vomiting, a rash and high temperature.
During your consultation with an Ahmeys travel health practitioner, you will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are also well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer from certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.