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What to do if you get bitten by an animal on vacation

What to do if you get bitten by an animal on vacation
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The next steps in protecting yourself from rabies

If you are bitten by animal on vacation, whether it is wild or domestic, you could be infected with the rabies virus. If not treated quickly enough, the results are fatal.

If you have been bitten by an animal in an area where rabies is endemic, seek immediate medical attention even if you have been vaccinated.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection transmitted from infected animals to humans through saliva from biting or licking an open wound. The earliest symptoms of rabies are flu-like and can include chills, headaches, fever, loss of appetite and tingling at the site of the wound.

The virus can then quickly spread to the nervous system which can then cause neurological symptoms such as muscle spasms, hallucinations, anxiety, hydrophobia (fear of water), aerophobia (fear of fresh air).

If not treated quickly enough, rabies will result in death.

How is rabies transmitted?

Any warm-blooded animal could carry rabies, but the most common routes of transmission are dogs, bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, farm animals and even domesticated pets.

Rabies is not only transmitted through bites. If you have an open wound and an animal licks it, you could be infected with the virus.

Where am I most at risk?

Rabies occurs in all countries around the world except Antarctica. The World Health Organization has a map that shows the spread of the virus and where you will be most at risk.

While travelling, there are certain situations that will put you more at risk from rabies such as:

  • lack of access to medical care
  • visiting outdoor and wild spaces
  • activities and jobs that involve animals such as working at an animal shelter, research and laboratory work

Some accommodation will also increase your risk of animal bites. Travellers on homestays – that is, visiting relatives or friends in their own home – are more likely to be bitten by an animal.

Other activities that increase your risk of animal bites are running and cycling. Children are at greater risk from animal bites, too.

What do I do if I have been bitten by an animal?

If you have been bitten by an animal where rabies occurs, seek medical attention immediately. A treatment will be given to you if it is deemed necessary by the medical professional.

Carry out first aid treatment on the wound as soon as possible. Wash the wound for ten minutes with soap and water and then rinse with alcohol or iodine.

Is there a vaccine against rabies?

Yes, a pre-exposure rabies vaccine is recommended if you are travelling to at-risk areas and you can learn more about it on our information page.

A post-exposure rabies vaccine will need to be administered if you have been infected with rabies, even if you were vaccinated before travelling.

Can I prevent being infected by rabies?

Avoid contact with animals as much as possible, especially those that are displaying unusual behaviours that indicate that they are infected. This includes abnormal walking, weakness, unprovoked aggression, drooling at the mouth and spasms.

Where can I get travel vaccinations in Calgary?

If you need an appointment at a travel clinic in Calgary, turn to Canadian Travel Clinics. It is quick and easy to book online.