What is it?

Rabies is a deadly illness caused by a virus that spreads to humans through close contact with the saliva of an infected animal, most often from licks, bites or scratches.

What is my risk?

Your risk is much higher if you participate in activities that put you in close contact with animals, such as cave exploration, hunting, camping, hiking, or cycling. Travellers who will be working in close contact with animals (for example, veterinarians, animal control or wildlife workers or laboratory workers) are at higher risk.

Children are also considered at higher risk because they often play with animals, are less likely to report bites or scratches and are more likely to be bitten in the head and neck area.

How is it transmitted?

Rabies can be carried in any warm-blooded animal (domestic or wild).

Rabies is spread from an infected animal when the virus from its saliva enters the victim’s nervous system through a bite, scratch, or lick on open skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth).

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms generally take one to three months to appear, but this may vary considerably from several days to several years.

Early symptoms are flu-like, including headache, feeling generally unwell, fever, and fatigue.

Once symptoms of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, so prevention is especially important.

Can it be treated?

If you have been exposed to the virus (bitten or scratched), shots (called post-exposure prophylaxis) can be effective at preventing the disease, as long as they are received as soon as possible.

Post-exposure prophylaxis is available worldwide, but it is often difficult to obtain. There is no specific treatment for rabies once symptoms appear.

How can I prevent it?

  1. Get vaccinated (this is a 3-shot series given before travel. Even with the vaccination, you should still get immediate medical treatment if you are bitten or scratched by an animal).

  2. Take personal precautions to avoid contact with all animals, wild or domestic. You should not attempt to pick up, pet, feed or handle unfamiliar animals and always closely supervise children around animals, especially dogs, cats and wildlife such as monkeys.

  3. If bitten, scratched or licked on broken skin or mucous membranes, by an animal: Immediately clean the wound thoroughly by washing and flushing with soap and water for at least 15 minutes.