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Is there a rabies risk at my destination?

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Ways for travellers to protect themselves from rabies

World rabies day is September 28, so here is some information about how to avoid this fatal viral disease affecting the nervous system. Rabies is contracted through the saliva of an infected animal. Before travel to a region where rabies occurs, pre-exposure rabies vaccination may be recommended.

Worldwide, most cases of rabies are contracted through dog bites or scratches, but bats also carry rabies. Bats, skunks, racoons and foxes are the most common rabies carriers in North America.

How do I avoid exposure to rabies?

You can avoid being exposed to the virus that causes rabies by taking steps to avoid animal bites. Even animals that appear healthy might still be dangerous. Avoid feeding stray animals, and educate children you are travelling with about rabies. Children are more likely to play with animals, and may not think to tell you about bites or scratches.

Is there a rabies vaccine?

You can reduce the risk of contracting rabies by getting a pre-exposure rabies vaccine. Even if you are vaccinated against rabies, consult a healthcare professional about any animal bites or scratches.

The pre-exposure rabies vaccine is given in three doses over three or four weeks. We ask you to make an initial appointment with the travel health nurses at Canadian Travel Clinics six to eight weeks before you depart. This is to ensure there is time to administer all the vaccines that will keep you safe.

You can take a rabies booster every ten years to extend the protection.

What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to rabies on vacation?

If you are unlucky enough to be bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical advice immediately. Do not wait for symptoms. Once the symptoms of rabies develop, the disease is usually fatal. It’s important to seek medical advice about a potential rabies exposure even if you are vaccinated.

A healthcare professional will assess the risk that you have been exposed to rabies and decide whether post-exposure rabies treatment is warranted.

Is it easy to get post-exposure treatment for rabies at my destination?

You should be able to get access to post-exposure rabies treatment in all but the most remote areas. But if you know your risk of contracting rabies is increased – for example because you will be handling animals as part of your work – you should check availability of rabies vaccine locally. Bear in mind that you may have to travel to a larger city, or even another country to access treatment that will prevent rabies.

It is important to get post-exposure treatment for rabies immediately. Do not wait until you return to Canada.

Some jobs have a higher risk of rabies, for example, vets, zoologists and wildlife workers. Your occupational health team can advise you on reducing exposure.

Where can I learn more about avoiding rabies while on vacation?

This is our own information page about the rabies vaccine.

The Government of Canada has an information page about the causes, symptoms, risks and treatment of rabies.

The World Health Organization has a rabies factsheet.