Rabies Summary
Rabies is a potentially fatal viral infection. Rabies symptoms include fever, headache, myalgia, and can progress to more serious symptoms such as seizures, coma and death. The rabies vaccine (rabies treatment) should be administered immediately after the person or pet has been bitten.
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Rabies facts

  • Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that affects the nervous system and, unless treated quickly and appropriately, usually results in death.
  • Rabies symptoms and signs occur after exposure and may consist of some or many of the following: odd behaviors, delirium, combativeness, loss of muscle function, muscle spasms, drooling, convulsions, pain, and other problems.
  • Rabies is caused when the virus, Lyssavirus rabies, enters the human body by the bite from an infected animal, in most cases. The virus progresses through the nerves to the brain and other organs.
  • Although the majority of rabies infections worldwide originate from bites from infected dogs, other animals (for example, bats, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, wolves) may transmit the disease. Saliva from infected animals and bat guano may also transmit the rabies virus to humans under certain conditions.
  • A person exposed to rabies should ideally be treated within 12 hours of the exposure and definitely within 48 hours for the best outcome.
  • People exposed to rabies are usually treated with rabies immune globulin and rabies vaccine initially and then get an additional vaccine injection on days three, seven, 14, and occasionally 28 after the first treatment.
  • Diagnostic tests for rabies exposure usually involve taking tissue samples (often brain tissue) from the potentially rabies-infected animal exposed to the patient and using immunofluorescence or other immunological techniques to detect the virus in the animal tissue.
  • Patients who develop the symptoms of rabies, due to no treatment or incomplete treatment, in almost every instance, will die from the disease.
  • Rabies can be prevented or greatly reduced in incidence by government-mandated animal vaccinations, by oral vaccines fed to wild animals, and by avoiding any contact with an animal suspected of having rabies.

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Rabies Vaccine

Do You Need Vaccinations Before Traveling Abroad?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

International travelers should make sure that these vaccinations are up to date and that no boosters are required, since many conditions which are rare in the U.S. due to immunity in the general population may be more common in other countries.

"Recommended" vaccinations are given to protect travelers from illnesses that occur routinely in other parts of the world. Doctors determine which vaccines are recommended for international travel on an individual basis, taking into consideration your destination, whether you will be spending time in rural areas, the season of the year you are traveling, your age, your overall health status, and your immunization history.

Some examples of vaccines that may be recommended for international travelers (remember you may need more, fewer, or different vaccinations, depending on your individual circumstances) include the following:

  • Hepatitis A: This condition is spread by person-to-person contact, through contaminated water, shellfish harvested in contaminated water, or other food products contaminated during preparation or handling. Hepatitis A may be contracted where sanitation conditions may be lacking.

  • Rabies: Rabies virus is endemic in dogs in many countries throughout the world, including, but not limited to, parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

  • Typhoid fever: This condition may be contracted in many areas of the world through contaminated drinking water or food or by consuming food or beverages that have been handled by an infected person.