My doctor has suggested I get the Rabies vaccination! What is it? Do I need it?
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, namely dogs, monkeys and bats. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.
How is Rabies transmitted?
According to the CDC, contact with rabid dogs is still the cause of over 90% of human exposures to rabies and of over 99% of human deaths worldwide. Monkeys and bats can also be carriers of the virus. Transmission almost always occurs by an animal bit, and the virus is present in the saliva of the biting rabid mammal. Most deaths from rabies occur in countries with inadequate public health resources and limited access to preventive treatment.
Is there a treatment for Rabies?
There is no known cure after the onset of clinical signs, and rabies must be considered 100% fatal, Preventive measures remain the only way to guarantee survival after a bite by a rabid animal.
What about prevention?
Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt and appropriate medical care. Yet, more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year - a rate of one person every ten minutes.
Prevention of rabies in travellers is best accomplished by having a comprehensive strategy. Such a strategy consists of 1) avoiding animal bites; 2) knowing how to prevent rabies after a bite; and 3) being able to travel (even to another country) to wherever post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), the only known post-exposure treatment, is available.
For certain international travellers, pre-exposure rabies vaccine may be recommended, based on the prevalence of rabies in the country to be visited, intended activities, and duration of stay. Pre-exposure vaccination does not eliminate the need for additional medical attention after a rabies exposure, but it simplifies the post-exposure treatment.
Whilst vaccination for Rabies is not compulsory, and is very much a personal decision. You should speak with your local GP or Travel Doctor, so that you can weigh up the options for yourself.