Skip to main content

Should I get a rabies shot before I go on vacation?

Headache lady who could be in the early stages of rabies, or just worried about an animal bite.
Click to enlarge

Are you at risk from rabies while travelling?

If you think you or someone you are caring for has been exposed to rabies, seek medical help. If you have been scratched or bitten by an animal in a country where rabies occurs, get medical advice even if the skin was not broken. Do not wait until you get home.

Now that we’ve got that warning out of the way, let’s find out a bit more about rabies and how travellers can protect themselves from it.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a fatal viral disease contracted from the bite, lick or scratch of an infected animal. Infection with the rabies virus causes the spinal cord and brain to swell. If not treated, rabies results in death. It is commonly contracted through an animal bite, but it can be transmitted when an animal licks broken skin. The symptoms take a while to appear. They are flu-like at first, but the disease progresses rapidly once they do appear. Once the patient has symptoms, rabies is usually fatal. This is why it is important to get medical advice promptly if you are bitten by an animal.

Where is rabies a risk?

There is a risk of contracting rabies anywhere in the world, apart from Antarctica. Most human deaths from rabies occur in Africa, Asia and South America. Any warm-blooded animal can carry rabies. The most common infection routes are the bites of:

  • dogs
  • cats
  • bats

Which travellers are particularly at risk from rabies?

Anyone working with animals will need to protect themselves from rabies. Children are common victims of animal bites, so travel health advisers may recommend they get a pre-exposure rabies shot. People staying with family or friends are another group of travellers at risk from animal bites, and so are cyclists and runners. Talk over your travel plans with your health adviser so they can help you decide how likely it is that you will be exposed to rabies.

What should I do if I am bitten by an animal while travelling?

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the site with soap and water for at least 10 minutes. Then rinse with alcohol. Next, seek medical help. A clinician can assess the risk of rabies exposure and provide anti-rabies treatment if that is appropriate. You will need anti-rabies treatment even if you are vaccinated against rabies. Post-exposure rabies treatment must be administered within a few days.

How can I avoid exposure to rabies?

The best way to avoid exposure to rabies is to avoid being bitten or scratched by animals. Don’t pet strange dogs or cats, particularly strays, and avoid places where bats congregate. Avoid touching animals that look sick or are behaving strangely. For more information about rabies, see MyHealth Alberta.

How do I make an appointment for travel vaccinations in Calgary?

Canadian Travel Clinics can offer same-day vaccinations at our travel clinics in Calgary. Make an appointment online right now. Your travel health advisor will be able to tell you more about the risk of exposure to rabies at your destination and can help you work out an appropriate regime of vaccines.