Rabies: What every traveler needs to know
Rabies is one of the most deadly diseases known
It is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, and
once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal. Any
warm-blooded mammal can be infected by rabies and can
transmit the infection to humans.
Domestic or feral (wild) dogs are the most common source of rabies in
humans in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In North America and Europe the
disease is mainly confined to wild animals (particularly bats, raccoons, foxes,
coyote, and skunks).
You can catch rabies when the saliva of an infected animal is introduced into
your body. This is usually through a bite, but there have been occasions
when infected saliva has entered the body via a mucous membrane (eyes,
nose or mouth), or via a wound or scratch as the result of being licked.
How do you know if you will be at risk?
Talk to your doctor or nurse about your travel plans.
You might be at particular risk if:
- you are going to a high risk area
- you live or travel (frequently or for long periods) to countries with a risk of rabies
- you are travelling to remote areas with limited access to medical care, even for a short period of time
- you intend to take part in activities such as cycling and running, which can attract the attention of animals
- you intend to work with animals.
Book an appointment with your nurse or doctor for a pre-travel
consultation at least 6 weeks before you are due to travel.
What if you don’t get vaccinated before travelling?
If you do not have rabies vaccination before travelling, you may need more
intensive treatment in the event of a potential exposure to rabies, including a
treatment called immunoglobulin, which will be followed by some doses of the
Rabies immunoglobulin is vital for immediate protection but it can be hard to
obtain in some countries. In such cases you may need to quickly travel to a
nearby country or home to the UK for immediate treatment.
If you are bitten, scratched, or licked on an open wound (such as a cut
or a patch of eczema) or mucous membrane (eyes, nose or mouth) you
must seek medical attention immediately.
NEVER think that a wound is so small it can’t be a risk. If the skin is
broken then the virus may be able to enter.
What should you do if you are exposed to rabies?
Remember, this is an emergency: seek medical advice without delay,
even if you had the rabies vaccine before you travelled.
- immediately flush the wound with plenty of soap or detergent under running tap water for at least 15 minutes.
- do not scrub the wound.
- if possible apply an iodine solution or neat alcohol (40-70%).
- do not cover the wound or apply a pressure dressing.
- wash any animal saliva from your face immediately with plenty of water to stop it from getting into your eyes, nose or mouth.
- seek urgent medical attention with out delay (even if you have had a course of rabies vaccine previously). You might also need antibiotics to prevent the wound becoming infected.
Further information for travellers regarding rabies is available from the Health
Protection Agency at http://www.nathnac.org/travel/factsheets/index.htm
Malaria is a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. If malaria is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can be fatal.
A single mosquito bite is all it takes for someone to become infected.
Symptoms of malaria
It is important to be aware of the symptoms of malaria if you are travelling to areas where there is a high malaria risk (see below). Symptoms include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- sweats and chills
- muscle pains
Symptoms usually appear between seven and 18 days after becoming infected, but in some cases the symptoms may not appear for up to a year, or occasionally even longer.