Rabies

WHAT IS RABIES?

Rabies is a serious disease that is caused by a virus.  Rabies is mainly a disease of animals however, humans can get rabies when bitten by an infected animal.  At first sight there might not be any symptoms, but as weeks or even months go by after a bite, rabies can cause pain, fatigue, headaches, fevers, and irritability.  These are followed by seizures, hallucinations, and paralysis.  Human rabies are almost always fatal!

Wild animals - especially bats - are the most common source of human rabies infection in the United States.  Skunks, raccoons, dogs, cats, coyotes, foxes, and other mammals can also transmit the disease.  Human rabies is rare in the United States, as there has only been 55 cases diagnosed since 1990

THE RABIES VACCINE

The rabies vaccine is given to people at high risk of rabies to protect them if they are exposed to an animal who has been infected by rabies or one who has bitten them.  It can also prevent the disease if it is given to a person after they have been exposed.

Rabies vaccines are made from killed rabies virus and it cannot cause rabies.

WHO SHOULD GET RABIES VACCINES AND WHEN?

Preventive Vaccinations (No Exposure)

  • People at high risk of exposure to rabies, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, rabies laboratory workers, spelunkers, and rabies biologics production workers should be offered rabies vaccine

  • People whose activities bring them into frequent contact with the rabies virus or with possible rabid animals

  • International travelers who are likely to come into contact with animals in parts of the world where rabies are common

The Pre-Exposure Schedule for rabies vaccination is recommended in 3 Doses. 

Anyone who has been bitten by an animal who otherwise may have been exposed to rabies should clean the wound and seek a doctor immediately.  The doctor will determine if they (or you) need to be vaccinated.

It is recommended that a person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated before get 4 Doses of rabies vaccine.

A vaccine, like any other medication, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.  The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small, and serious problems from rabies vaccine are very rare.  If there is a serious reaction, call 911 or get to the nearest hospital.

You can learn more at the CDC's website at www.cdc.gov/rabies/

Information provided by the US Department of Heath and Human Services

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention