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Other than Antarctica, rabies is found all around the world. The greatest number of cases occur in Asia and Africa.

Rabies - What is it?

Rabies is a very serious disease caused by a group of viruses called Lyssavirus.The rabies virus infects domestic and wild animals such as dogs, cats, bats and foxes. Infected animals carry the rabies virus in their saliva. The virus is most commonly spread to humans through bites from infected animals.

The rabies virus does not enter the bloodstream; instead it infects the nervous system (the system that controls the nerves) and travels to the brain where it causes disease. Once signs of the disease appear, rabies almost always leads to death.

Rabies - Who is at risk?

Although rabies is not common in some countries such as Australia, it is still a problem in other parts of the world including much of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. The rabies status of a country however can change at any time.

In countries where rabies is common, travellers may be at risk if they're exposed to an infected animal (domestic or wild). The risk of infection is considered higher for:

  • those spending a lot of time outdoors, such as campers
  • those camping in caves, due to the increased exposure to bats
  • travellers with occupational risks such as veterinarians  and those working with wildlife
  • long-term travellers who are spending time in areas where rabies is common
  • children, as they are more likely to play with animals

Other people may be at risk of rabies. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Rabies - How is it spread?

In countries where rabies is common dogs, cats and bats are the usual carriers of the rabies virus, however bites from all mammals can be dangerous. Infected animals carry the virus in their saliva and it is most commonly spread to humans through animal bites. Although rare, rabies can also be spread through scratches or licking of broken skin by an infected animal.

Rabies - What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of rabies usually develop 3 to 8 weeks after infection - but they can develop earlier or, rarely, years later. If an infected animal bites a part of the body that has a rich supply of nerves (such as the face, neck and fingers), symptoms are likely to develop more quickly.

The initial symptoms can be vague and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, cough, sore throat, muscle pain and tiredness. As the disease progresses, symptoms such as anxiety, confusion, abnormal behaviour, hallucinations, fear of water, fear of air, hyperactivity and rapid breathing develop, invariably leading to death.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following exposure to rabies. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.

Rabies - Vaccination and Prevention

Rabies vaccination is recommended for travellers visiting countries where the risk of contracting the virus is high. The likelihood of coming into contact with animals should be taken into account, as well as the level of access to emergency treatment. When planning your travel, talk to your doctor about your travel plans, bearing in mind that 3 doses of rabies vaccine is required and will take a month to complete.

It is also recommended that travellers to countries where the risk of rabies is high should avoid close contact with domestic and wild animals. Some measures to reduce the risk of infection include:

  • taking care when walking, running or cycling to avoid contact with stray dogs and cats
  • paying close attention to young children as their height increases the risk of bites to the face and head, do not allow them to play, pat or feed animals
  • not carrying food, or feed and/or pat monkeys, especially those carrying their young
  • avoiding coming into contact with bats

Travellers should also get specific advice from their doctor on preventative measures and what to do if they get bitten or scratched by an animal when travelling.

Other individuals may also be at greater risk of getting rabies. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Rabies - Treatment

All bites and scratches should be washed thoroughly with soap and water immediately. An antiseptic as advised by a doctor should be applied. Medical attention should be sought immediately.

Rabies is treated with a combination of rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin (antibodies against rabies). Post exposure treatment is still required even if you have previously been vaccinated against rabies.

It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss vaccination and travel health.


Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.




AUS/VAC/0042/15. Date of approval: April 2015.