Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. In the United States, rabies is mostly found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. However, in many other countries dogs still carry rabies, and most rabies deaths in people around the world are caused by dog bites.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death. Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start.
If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched, you should talk with a healthcare or public health professional to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses. Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water and then plan to see a healthcare provider. (It’s important to know that, unlike most other animals that carry rabies, many types of bats have very small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly. If you are unsure, seek medical advice to be safe.)
Remember that rabies is a medical urgency but not an emergency. Decisions should not be delayed.
See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination. After any wounds have been addressed, your doctor – possibly in consultation with your state or local health department – will help you decide if you need treatment known as rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). Decisions to start PEP will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, whether the animal is available for testing, and laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.
In the United States, PEP consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm like a flu or tetanus vaccine; rabies vaccines are not given in the stomach.
People who work with rabies in laboratory settings and animal control and wildlife officers are just a few of the people who should consider rabies preexposure vaccinations. If you are traveling to a country where rabies is widespread, you should consult your doctor about the possibility of receiving preexposure vaccination against rabies.
Consider preexposure vaccination if:
Your planned activity will bring you into contact with wild or domestic animals, for example if you are a biologist, veterinarian, or agriculture specialist working with animals. You will be visiting remote areas where medical care is difficult to obtain or may be delayed, for example, hiking through remote villages where dogs are common. Your stay is longer than 1 month in an area where dog rabies is common. The longer your stay, the greater the chance of an encounter with an animal. Although preexposure vaccination does not eliminate the need for additional therapy after a rabies exposure, it simplifies management by eliminating the need for rabies immune globulin and decreasing the number of doses of vaccine needed. This is of particular importance for persons at high risk for exposure to rabies in areas where immunizing products might not be available or where lesser quality biologics might be used which would place the exposed person at increased risk for adverse events.
Preexposure prophylaxis may also protect people whose postexposure therapy is delayed and provide protection to people who are at risk for unapparent exposures to rabies.
Read more at CDC.gov