Travel Vaccines for Rabies


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The rabies infection is a particularly notorious one which can be transmitted across species, which is why it is referred to as a ‘zoonotic’ infection. The virus causing the disease is more common in countries in Africa, South America, and Asia, and if you intend on travelling to these locations then it is advised that you seek and arrange vaccination as the disease can be quite severe.

Rabies as a travel concern

Rabies is highly contagious and passed on from species to species by contact with infected animals. The most common method of transmission is through a bit from an infected creature, which transmits the virus causing the disease. Without vaccination, a human rabies infection is usually fatal.

The rabies virus affects the nervous system, and causes severe inflammation of the brain which is referred to medically as encephalitis. Symptoms begin to show after the virus has travelled from the site of the bite along nerve cells to the central nervous system (brain and spinal card). From the onset of symptoms the disease is lethal within a few days and is untreatable.

The first symptoms of rabies are usually a headache, malaise, and fever, which quickly worsens into violent mood swings (from excitement to extreme depression), a fear of water, and severe pain. Ultimately these symptoms lead to a coma during which a patient will usually die because of a failure of their respiratory system.

Rabies is a serious issue in Africa and Asia, causing about 55,000 deaths every year. The vast majority of cases are caused by bites from infected dogs (about 97%), which is why countries with efficient animal control services effectively reduced the incidence and transmission of the disease. Rabies has been eliminated in the United Kingdom, which is why the Rabies vaccine is not part of the routine immunisation programme.

The Rabies Vaccination

The rabies vaccine is the only existing method available with which to protect against rabies and its symptoms. Vaccination is usually recommended if you will be travelling for more than a month in an area where there is a risk of infection and where there isn’t easy access to medical facilities. It is also advised if you are working in an environment which involves a higher risk of infection (e.g. if you are working with animals). This is because if you have been bitten, administering the rabies vaccine can help (if given within 10 days of the infection).

The preventative vaccine can be given in advance of your travel arrangements and is provided as a course of three injections. The second is offered a week after the initial infection, and the third and final dose is administered 2-3 weeks after the second injection. Another booster is provided a year later, and depending on the risk of infection, further doses administered every 2-5 years.

The rabies vaccine does not mean you are completely immune to the disease, and so you should take practical preventative measures to protect yourself from any inadvertent exposure. Avoiding animals displaying the violent behaviour typical of rabid creatures is recommended, and if you are working in a capacity where you are likely to be exposed to the infection, making use of protective wear and equipment and adhering to an immunisation programme is the best course of action.


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