About the vaccine
- When to get vaccinated: You should aim to get your first dose ideally five weeks before travelling to ensure you will be able to complete the course in time.
- Course: The course consists of three vaccines. The second dose is given seven days after the first dose. The third dose should be given three weeks after the second dose.
- Accelerated course: If you’re travelling at short notice, you may be able to have the third dose two weeks after the second.
- Boosters: The rabies vaccine protects you for 10 years. If you are working with animals or are otherwise at a higher risk, more frequent boosters may be recommended.
- How it is given: Injection in the upper arm.
- Side effects: The vaccine can cause mild side effects such as rash, a high temperature, nausea or muscle aches.
- Children: The rabies vaccine can be given from birth.
- Additional precautions: Avoid touching animals while abroad. If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, wash the wound and seek medical attention immediately.
- Risk if you contract the disease: Rabies is usually fatal. There is no cure for rabies.
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The rabies vaccine is used to prevent an infection prior to travelling to a high risk area. It is also used to prevent the illness from spreading to the nervous system after an animal bite. As medical treatment is not always readily available in countries with a high risk, you may need to protect yourself with a rabies injection before leaving the country.
The pre-exposure rabies vaccine is administered with an intramuscular injection and consists of three doses. The three doses need to be given within a specific time period, so you should begin the treatment at least one month before travelling. You will receive the second dose 7 days after the first, the third dose should be received on the 28th day. If there isn’t enough time then the third dose can be administered on the 21st day.
Side effects of the rabies vaccine
The vaccine can cause temporary side effects. The most common rabies vaccine side effects are a mild fever, headache, muscle pain and vomiting. You may also notice a rash or redness and swelling at the site of the injection. These side effects will disappear within 2 to 3 days.
Very common side effects (affects up to 1 in 10 people)
- muscle and joint pain
- mild pain and redness at the site of injection
- feeling generally unwell
- swollen lymph nodes
Common side effects (affects up to 1 in 100 people)
- minor skin reactions, such as hives or a rash
- shortness of breath
- abdominal pain
- bruising at site of injection
The rabies vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, meaning that it does not contain the live rabies virus. This means that you cannot get rabies from the rabies vaccine.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a dangerous viral infection endemic to many countries. According to the World Health Organisation, there are over 55,000 deaths caused by rabies every year (mostly in Africa and Asia). There is no cure or treatment for rabies. Once the infection has taken hold, it is almost always lethal. If you are travelling to a country with a high rabies risk, it is advised that you protect yourself with a preventative rabies vaccine.
Which countries have a high rabies risk?
Rabies occurs on all continents and is endemic to over 150 countries. The rabies virus kills over 55 000 people every year, primarily in Africa and Asia.
It is passed from animals to humans, usually as the result of an animal bite. Once the virus has entered the bloodstream, it quickly spreads to the brain and nervous system, causing rabies symptoms such as itchiness at the infection site, fever and an irrational fear of water. Rabies patients also typically show aggressive behaviour.
Every year, more than 15 million people receive a post-exposure vaccination to prevent the disease from breaking out after an animal bite. Many of those affected by human rabies are children, who are drawn to animals and often unaware of the dangers.
Countries with a particularly high risk of rabies include all countries on the African continent, large parts of Asia and South America. Before travelling, always ensure you are aware of the rabies risk at your travel destination.
Avoiding animal bites
You should avoid touching animals while abroad and always seek medical help if you have been bitten. Although rabies is most commonly caught from dogs, the illness can be transmitted by all animals which carry the virus, including bats.
If you notice any bites or scratches after being in contact with an animal, wash the wound carefully and seek advice at a local hospital. If you are travelling with children, please ensure they are aware that they must not touch any animals.
Is rabies curable?
Rabies can still be prevented after a bite or scratch if post exposure treatment is given without delay. However, once the disease has broken out and the patient is showing symptoms it is almost always fatal.