The rabies vaccine is an inactivated vaccine containing dead virus. It cannot cause the disease in the vaccinated individual, but allows effective antibodies to form against the virus which can defend the body quickly if exposure to rabies virus occurs. As time is of the essence when dealing with potential rabies infection, vaccination provides this. Although, it is important to bear in mind that it does not eliminate the need for urgent medical attention.
Vaccination prior to travel (pre-exposure) should be considered for anyone going to live in or who are travelling to high risk countries. This is particularly important if their travel activities are likely to increase the risk of exposure, such as trekking or travel in rural areas. It should also be considered if travelling to countries or areas where post exposure medical care may not be accessible within 24 hours.
The rabies vaccine should be considered for all children traveling to high risk areas to the increased chances of them being exposed and developing symptoms very quickly. The rabies vaccine can be given safely from birth onwards.
It is imperative to seek medical attention as soon as possible if a bite or scratch is sustained in any rabies endemic area even if pre-travel vaccination has been given. Saliva should be thoroughly washed with soap and water for 10 mins and the wound irrigated with iodine solution or alcohol. This is very effective in removing virus from the bite site, providing it is prompt and thorough. Suturing of the wound site should be avoided and tetanus vaccination should be considered. If you have returned back to the UK having suffered a bite/scratch in a rabies endemic area, your case will need to be discussed with Public Health England. This is the case even if you have started a post exposure exposure rabies course after a bite abroad and have been advised to complete in the UK, you will need to attend your local GP or AE, who can discuss your case directly with the Public Health England.
The rabies should not be given if you have:
- History of severe allergic reaciton to a previous dose fo rabies vaccine or any of the components of the vaccine (see FAQ section)
- Acute illness with high fever (greater than 38.5 degrees Celsius)
Due to the severity of rabies infection, vaccination can be given to pregnant women if there is a high risk of exposure and rapid access to post exposure management not available. Inactivated vaccines have not been show to cause harm in pregnancy.
Due to the severity of rabies infection, vaccination can be given to breast feeding mothers if there is a high risk of exposure and rapid access to post exposure management not available.
Common Side Effects
Local reactions at injection site-redness, swelling, pain.
Less commonly-headaches, muscle aches and fever
Interactions with Other Vaccines
The rabies vaccine does not interact with any other vaccines. Thus, it can be given at the same time or any time before or after all other vaccines, including yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid vaccines.