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In this blog, we explore what rabies is and what the vaccine does to protect you against it. If you have any questions at all, you just need to reach out to us.
Rabies is a viral disease transmitted to humans, usually through a bite or scratch from an infected animal (typically a dog). The virus attacks the central nervous system, causing progressive damage to the brain and spinal cord. Once symptoms are present, rabies is almost always fatal.
Human rabies cases are often unreported, making it difficult to provide reliable figures on worldwide incidence. The disease is estimated to cause 59,000 human deaths annually. Rabies is rare in travellers, with only 25 human deaths in the UK from imported rabies between 1902 and 2005.
Though rabies cases are rare among travellers, animal bites and scratches are common. It is crucial for travellers visiting areas where rabies occurs to be aware of the risks and know what to do if bitten or scratched. The disease is preventable if the correct post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is provided quickly. However, PEP can be expensive and difficult to obtain in some areas.
Travellers should avoid contact with wild or domestic animals and should be advised not to:
— Approach animals
— Attempt to pick up unusually tame or unwell animals
— Attract stray animals by offering food or being careless with litter
Be aware that certain activities, such as running and cycling, may attract dogs. Watch this awesome video by the Florida Department of Health on avoiding and preventing Rabies infection.
If exposed to rabies, urgent action is required. Treatment should commence as soon as possible after the exposure:
— Wash the wound immediately with detergent or soap and running water for several minutes.
— Apply a disinfectant to the wound, such as an iodine solution or 40-70% alcohol.
— Apply a simple dressing to the wound.
— Seek immediate medical advice regarding the need for PEP and possible antibiotics to prevent wound infection.
A tetanus vaccine may be necessary if the traveller’s immunisation is not up-to-date. Suturing of the wound should be postponed until PEP has started.
Please answer the following questions to determine your risk level:
1. Are you planning to travel to an area where rabies is present?
2. Will you be in close contact with animals during your trip?
3. Are you participating in activities that may attract dogs, such as running or cycling?
4. Will you be staying in the area for more than a month?
5. Is access to PEP and medical care limited in the area you are visiting?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be at increased risk of rabies exposure and should consider getting the rabies vaccine.
The pre-exposure rabies vaccine should be offered to individuals at continuous or frequent risk of exposure, including:
— Laboratory workers routinely handling rabies virus
— Bat handlers who regularly handle bats
— Those who regularly handle imported animals
— Animal workers frequently travelling to rabies risk areas
— Health workers in rabies risk areas with direct contact with rabies-infected patients
International travellers to rabies-affected areas are generally considered to be at ‘infrequent risk’. However, pre-exposure vaccines are recommended for those at increased risk, such as:
— Those visiting areas with limited access to PEP and medical care
— Those planning higher-risk activities, such as cycling and running
— Long-stay travellers (more than one month)
In countries where rabies has only been reported in wild animals or bats, pre-exposure vaccines are recommended for a smaller group of travellers.