What is rabies?
Rabies is an infection of the brain caused by a virus that is spread to humans through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. If left untreated, rabies is fatal. The most common infection is through the bite of an infected dog. Rabies results in tens of thousands of human deaths each year.
Symptoms can take 3-8 weeks to appear and include : headache, fever, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, muscle spasms and strange behavior.
Where is rabies found?
Rabies is most common in developing countries where there are stray animals living in close contact to humans. It is estimated that over 55,000 people die of rabies each year in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Wild animals, domestic pets and farm animals have all been known to carry the disease. Travellers should avoid stray animals and be aware of their surroundings. Avoid contact with bats and other wildlife. Any bat should be suspected of carrying rabies.
In Canada, wild life such as bats, skunks and raccoons are common carriers of rabies. There are no known cases of rabies acquired through bites in BC.
If you are bitten or scratched by an animal that may have rabies you should:
Immediately wash the wound with warm water and soap for 15 minutes, and then flush thoroughly with water. Seek medical attention right away.
It is crucial to receive shots for possible rabies as soon as possible. If you wait until the symptoms start to appear, it is usually too late to begin effective medical treatment.
Why get the rabies shot pre-travel?
Pre-exposure vaccine is given to help protect those who might come into contact with an infected animal. The rabies shot is recommended for those with high-risk jobs such as veterinarians or animal control, wildlife workers, hunters or spelunkers.
Vaccination is recommended for travellers at risk of exposure to rabies and for visitors staying one month or longer in areas with a high risk of rabies, such as parts of Latin America, South East Asia, India and Africa.
Travelling children are especially at risk due to their tendency to touch or play with wild or stray animals.
What are the side effects of the vaccine?
The rabies vaccine is given in a series of 3 shots.
Mild side effects such as pain, redness, swelling and itching at the injection site were reported. Other side effects, though uncommon, included headache, nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness and muscle aches.