WHAT IS RABIES?
Rabies is a disease caused by a virus which inflames the brain and spinal cord. The infection is spread by a bite or scratch from an infected animal, usually a dog but can be a cat, bat or monkey. Infection is usually passed from body fluids of infected animals such as saliva and blood into open wounds. Incubation of the virus is usually between 3 to 12 weeks but may take as long as 19 years to develop. Most patients will develop symptoms within 1 year of being exposed to the virus.
Classical early symptoms include: Pins and Needles type feeling around the wound site, Fever, Headache and generally feeling out of sorts. This is followed by a dislike of water, extreme behaviour and hallucinations which will progress to Paralysis, Coma and Death. The infection is almost always fatal and there is no treatment once symptoms start to develop.
Worldwide, there are 55,000 deaths per year due to Rabies.
DO I NEED A VACCINATION FOR MY HOLIDAY?
Rabies is present in almost all areas of the world except Antarctica although there are a few countries and islands which are classed as being rabies free. Most wild dogs in Asia, Africa and Central and Southern America will carry it and some pet dogs too. Vampire bats in Mexico and Central/ Southern America also have it.
A pre-exposure vaccine is available which can be given before you travel so that if you are bitten, although you will still require further vaccinations, you will only require two within 7 days as opposed to a post exposure course of five injections within a month.
Anyone travelling into remote areas for long periods of time where they are likely to be more than 24 hours from good medical facilities, taking part in higher risk activities such as cycling or running and also anyone likely to be having lengthy contact with animals as part of their trip should consider having the pre-exposure vaccine.
There are two licenced vaccines for use before travel: Rabipur and Rabies Vaccine BP.
The course is three injections, the second being given 7 days after the first and the third injection on day 28. If there is not enough time before travel, the third one can be given from day 21. The vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines.
If the risk of exposure to Rabies is high, Pregnant and breast feeding mothers should be given the pre-exposure vaccination. Booster vaccination may be needed again after 10 years if you are travelling again to a high risk area.
HOW DO I REDUCE MY CHANCES OF GETTING RABIES?
Try to avoid touching or handling strange animals in countries known to have rabies problems e.g. in zoos, monkey sanctuaries, remote villages where you may be bitten or scratched.
If you are at risk of exposure, have the vaccination before you go.
If you are wounded by an animal, wash the wound thoroughly and seek urgent medical attention immediately, even if you have had the pre-exposure vaccine. Do not attempt to stitch the wound as this may make it worse.