Rabies causes spasms, extreme thirst, fear of water (hydrophobia), madness, and paralysis, and it is almost always fatal. Rabies is usually spread through the saliva of an animal which is carrying the virus.

High risk areas: rabies is found in animals almost everywhere, but most human cases occur in Asia, Africa, and South and Latin America.

Vaccination against rabies is usually carried out as a precautionary measure, in case you are bitten by an animal that might have rabies and medical attention is not available.

The rabies vaccine is recommended for anyone who is:

  • travelling to an area where rabies is common in animals (such as jungle habitats), for one month or more, and where there is no access to prompt, reliable, and safe medical care,
  • travelling to an area where rabies is common in animals for less than one month, but you may be exposed to rabies because of your travel activities, such as trekking in a jungle, or
  • working abroad in close contact with animals, such as veterinarians or animal handlers at zoos.

The vaccine

There are currently two rabies vaccines that are available in the UK. Vaccination usually requires a course of three doses for protection. The second dose is given seven days after the first. The third dose is given 21, or 28 days, after the first, depending on which vaccine is used.

Vaccination should be completed before your departure to allow your body to develop full immunity. Depending on which vaccine is used, a booster dose will be needed every 2-3 years, or every 2-5 years, to ensure continued protection.

There is no minimum age for one of the rabies vaccines, and the other is usually given from one year of age onwards.