Rabies is a serious infection that affects the nervous system and the brain. It almost always ends in fatality once the symptoms appear. It It is usually caught from an animal bite or scratch, frequently a dog.
Rabies is extremely rare in the UK – it’s only found in wild bats – but is found globally, especially in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Click here for the government’s website listing the risks of being infected by rabies in countries around the world.
If you are travelling to high risk areas and are planning to do activities that could expose you to animals with rabies, e.g. running, walking, cycling, it would be worth considering vaccination. These days, the vaccination is a course of three injections into the upper arm – you will need to start the process at least 28 days before you travel.
Even if you have been vaccinated against rabies, you must clean and disinfect the wound and seek immediate treatment if you think you have been infected by a rabid animal. Before the symptoms appear, treatment can be almost 100% effective. After the symptoms appear, the disease is usually fatal.
If not treated after infection, symptoms will usually develop between 3 and 12 weeks. Initial symptoms can include:
- Temperature of 38oC or more
- Feelings of anxiousness
- Feelings of being generally unwell
- Discomfort at the scratch or bite site
A few days later, symptoms will become more unpleasant:
- Excess saliva or frothing at the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle spasms
Even if you have already been vaccinated against rabies, you will still need treatment after exposure.This involves a course of 5 doses of the rabies vaccine over the course of a month if you haven’t already had the vaccine, or 2 doses if you have. Sometimes you will also be given immunoglobulin in the wound.