Rabies is primarily an animal disease. Humans become infected with rabies when they are bitten or scratched by infected animals.
- The most common source of human rabies infection in the United States is wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.
- In other parts of the world, where dogs still carry rabies, rabies is more common. The majority of rabies deaths in people worldwide are caused by unvaccinated dog bites.
Rabies virus mostly affects the central nervous system. There may be no symptoms at first after being infected with rabies. Rabies can cause general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache weeks or even months after a bite.
After booster doses, hives, joint pain, or fever may occur, and nervous system disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) have been reported very rarely.
The rabies vaccine is given to people who are at high risk of contracting rabies in order to protect them if they become infected. Pre-exposure rabies vaccination should be offered to people who are at high risk of rabies exposure, such as:
- veterinarians, animal handlers, and veterinary students;
- rabies laboratory workers;
- spelunkers (people who explore caves); and
- rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin producers who work with live vaccines.
Rabies vaccination before exposure should also be considered.
- People whose activities expose them to the rabies virus or potentially rabid animals on a regular basis.
- International travelers who may come into contact with animals in areas where rabies is prevalent and immediate access to appropriate treatment is limited.
Three doses of rabies vaccine are recommended for pre-exposure protection. People who have been regularly exposed to the rabies virus should be tested for immunity, and booster doses may be required.
Rabies vaccine can protect against rabies if given to a person after they have been exposed to it. Regardless of vaccination status, anyone who has been bitten by an animal suspected of having rabies, or who has otherwise been exposed to rabies, should clean the wound and see a health care provider right away.
The health care provider can advise the patient on whether or not they should receive a post-exposure rabies vaccination.
- A person who has been exposed to rabies but has never been vaccinated should get four doses of the vaccine. A rabies immune globulin shot should also be given to the person (RIG).
- A person who has previously been immunized should receive two doses of rabies vaccine and is not required to receive Rabies Immune Globulin.
Inform your vaccine provider if the person receiving the vaccine has:
Inform your vaccine provider of the person receiving the vaccine:
- Has had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of rabies vaccine; or
- Has a weakened immune system.
Vaccine Reaction Risks
- Soreness, redness, swelling, or itching at the injection site, as well as headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, or dizziness, can occur following rabies vaccination.
- After booster doses, hives, joint pain, or fever have been reported, and nervous system disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) have been reported very rarely.