Travel Health

From: Travel Health Information and Advice

Rabies is a virus which affects the nervous system and if left untreated is fatal. The virus is often transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected animal.

Cause of Rabies
The rabies virus is found in the saliva of an infected animal and transmitted to people when the animal bites, or when the saliva comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membrane. Once the virus has entered the human body it progressively travels affecting the nervous system, once the infection has reached the brain the patients outcome is usually fatal.

Animals known to harbour the virus include carnivores such as foxes, bats, skunks, wolves, raccoons, ferrets and dogs.

Symptoms of Rabies
The symptoms of rabies can appear either within a few days or up to a year after exposure. Initially there will be a skin reaction where the bite took place which is often in the form of a tingling sensation followed by symptoms such as:

As the infection spreads, more serious symptoms start to appear:

Rabies Vaccine
The rabies vaccine can be given either before exposure to the virus occurs (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or after exposure to the virus occurs (post-exposure prophylaxis) and both involve a course of between 3 to 5 doses over the course of a month.

If you are immunized against rabies and are exposed to the virus you will still need to seek out medical attention so that further doses of the vaccine can be administered, however because you have already had a vaccination the treatment will be simplified and will allow you time to get to medical facilities for example if you are in remote areas where travel and medical treatment are limited.

Preventing Rabies
Consult your doctor prior to travelling to discuss where you are planning to travel to, what activities you will be doing and to ascertain if a rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis vaccine is necessary.

To prevent animals catching and spreading the disease many domestic dogs are now vaccinated against the disease, however this is not achieved in all countries so caution should be taken when handling animals you do not know.

In general it is best to avoid approaching or handling wild or stray animals and to report any animals who look like they might be infected with the virus to relevant authorities.

Diagnosing Rabies
Diagnosis will depend on:

Treatment of Rabies
Immediate treatment is necessary before any of the symptoms of rabies starts to show. If treatment is not sought quickly and symptoms develop treatment will often be unsuccessful and will result in death.

Initial treatment will depend on the circumstances but will often involve immediately and thoroughly washing the infected area for a minimum of 10 minutes followed by bandaging the area to protect it. Your doctor may also then administer a rabies immune globulin vaccine and then administer the first of 5 rabies vaccinations, but this will depend on your circumstances. It is worth knowing that prompt and correct treatment has a high success rate.

Most At Risk
Anyone travelling to a country where rabies is widespread, especially those people who may be outdoors or in an area where rabid animals are found or those in a situation where they may be handling wild animals are at risk, this especially applies to those who may be travelling to remote areas where prompt medical attention may be a problem, in these instances you are advised to consult your doctor in order to receive a rabies vaccination before you travel.

Affected Areas
Areas that are particularly affected include Africa, Central America, South America and Asia.