NY Travel Clinic

Preventing rabies

Most people don’t think about rabies when they get ready to travel, but they should.  Rabies is a lethal viral disease caused by a Lyssavirus spread by infected animals’ bites, licks, or scratches.  Infection can occur if there’s contact with the saliva of an infected animal.  In the United States, rabies virus has been identified in raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.   Many countries in Africa are considered high risk areas for contracting rabies, as are China, India, and some parts of South America. The disease is most often transmitted by rabid dogs.


After an animal infects you, the virus travels to the brain, eventually causing death.  There can be an itching sensation where the animal bit you.  The early symptoms of rabies in humans include fever, headache, and weakness. Later, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, and partial paralysis might occur.  Fear of water, difficulty swallowing,hypersalivation, hallucinations, and agitation are some other symptoms appearing as the diseases progresses.  Death usually occurs within 7 to 14 days of the appearance of these symptoms.


The best preventative measures are a pre-exposure vaccine, and avoidance of possibly infected animals such as dogs and bats in high risk countries.  The vaccine must be administered at least one month before travel to a high risk area.  If you will be in high risk areas, have contact with wild animals, or be in a place where access to medical care is hard to get, then you should consider a vaccine.  Consider vaccinating children because they might not understand the need to avoid potentially infected animals.

AVOID all contact with animals in high risk countries, avoid caves (where bats are numerous), and TEACH YOUR CHILDREN to do the same. BE VERY DILIGENT that your children avoid contact with animals.

Even if you get a vaccine, you MUST obtain treatment if you are bitten by a rabid animal.  If you are bitten by an animal, or have had some type of contact with one, wash wounds immediately with soap and water.THOROUGH cleaningof the wound has been shown to lower the risk of infection in animal studies.Go to your doctor eight after that, and she/he will decide what the best post-exposure vaccination protocol is.  The CDC states that “rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Additional doses or rabies vaccine should be given on days 3, 7, and 14 after the first vaccination. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm.Adverse reactions to rabies vaccine and immune globulin are not common.” If you are vaccinated, the vaccine can’t infect others.  You must follow the vaccination schedule exactly as prescribed.  Mild local reactions to the vaccine can occur.

You must receive post-exposure vaccine AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER BEING BITTEN.  Because rabies is lethal, and treatment might be very hard to obtain in a foreign country, you should seriously consider getting vaccinated before you travel.