Rabies is a fatal, viral infection of the brain, which is why it is so important to avoid contracting it. The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals (such as dogs, cats, monkeys and bats). It is not always possible to recognise that animals are infected with rabies; some can carry the disease without there being any obvious signs. Be especially wary of animals that are aggressive and agitated. After a possible infection, it is important that you immediately report to the First Aid department or the Infection Control department in a hospital.
How do you catch it?
You can come into contact with the virus if an infected animal bites you, or if it scratches or licks you. The virus enters the body through skin wounds or via mucous membranes (eyes and mouth). Once the virus gets into the nervous system it will develop into rabies and recovery will no longer be possible. However, it it possible to prevent the virus from entering the nervous system.
Where does it occur?
Rabies occurs in large parts of the world. The World Health Organization, www.who.int, keeps track of the countries in which rabies occurs.
How do you prevent it?
Avoid contact with animals in rabies-prone areas. Do not touch dead or sick animals, especially with bare hands. Do not pet or feed animals abroad. Make sure that your (small) children do not touch animals.
When should you consider getting a vaccination?
You should consider getting a rabies vaccination if there is clearly an increased risk of being infected. This depends on the country you are visiting, the duration of your stay and any possible contributing factors (such as work or other activities that might involve you having higher than usual contact with animals). The rabies vaccination consists of a series of 2 injections on day 0 and day 7. This series provides partial protection against rabies. You still need 2 extra injections after a (possible) infection. This should preferably be started within 24 hours. After a possible infection, you should always seek medical help immediately.
The advantages of being vaccinated against rabies:
- you will not need an antidote after being bitten (this is usually not available or of poor quality in less developed countries)
- you will only need two injections after being bitten, rather than five (and in less developed countries the vaccinations are of poor quality, which means they have many side-effects)
Whether you have been vaccinated or not, the following advice is always important. If you are in a country in which rabies is endemic and you are scratched or bitten by an animal always consult a doctor for further examination. Don’t wait before doing so; do it as soon as you can.