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Disease

Rabies

Page last updated on 30 September 2019

Australia has been free of rabies for a number of years. Australia does however have similar virus, which is found in bats.

Rabies, which is a viral infection, is spread by the bite of an infected animal, wild or domestic, eg dog, fox, or bat. It is commonly found across many regions of the globe, including Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and travellers are encouraged to talk to their healthcare professional to determine if vaccination is advised at least 4 weeks before they leave.

The rabies infection is almost always fatal once symptoms have begun. However, if a person has been bitten by a suspect animal, effective post-bite treatment can be given, which can reduce the probability of infection taking hold.
 

Key disease information

What is rabies?

Rabies is an infection caused by a virus of the Lyssavirus family.

It infects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal. The early infection shows with flu-like symptoms, and rapidly progress to altered behaviours, coma, and death. Rabies is not found in Australia, however, it is still present in many areas of the world. In Australia, there have been a handful of rare cases of rabies-like virus from bats.

How do you contract the rabies virus?

Rabies is spread by the bite or scratch of an animal, domestic or wild, eg dog, fox, monkey or bat.  

Although people theoretically could spread the virus to one another via a bite, this has never been accurately reported.

Children are particularly at risk, because they are more likely to want to play with animals, and these animals may be infected with the disease. 

Is rabies contagious?

There have been no confirmed recorded cases of rabies transmission by a bite between people. 

However, there have been a very small number of cases of rabies transmission through organ transplantation, eg corneas or internal organs. 

What are the symptoms of rabies?

Rabies begins with an early phase of flu-like symptoms, eg cough, fever, and headache.

In the majority of cases, so-called “furious” rabies will present with altered behaviour including increased anxiety and hyperactivity, aerophobia (fear of drafts of air), and/or hydrophobia (fear of water), and pain or tingling at the wound site.

The person will deteriorate rapidly over approximately two weeks, resulting in paralysis, coma and death. “Paralytic” Rabies occurs in the minority of cases and progresses more slowly, as muscles become paralysed, with the common result of coma and death. 

Is rabies just for animals?

No. Rabies can infect any mammal, which includes humans (people), dogs, foxes, raccoons, and bats. 

What countries are affected by rabies?

Rabies is common throughout many countries of the globe, including Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Indonesia, and North Eastern Europe.

Travellers to countries which have a high-risk of rabies should take the following precautions:

  • avoid close contact with wild and domestic animals, this is especially important for children
  • do not carry food around, or feed/play with monkeys or other animals
  • talk to your doctor about vaccination for rabies.
Do I need a rabies vaccination?

The best way to avoid rabies is to avoid direct contact with dog’s and other animals that could be rabid. The rabies vaccination is not part of the Australian government immunisation program.

However, if you are planning on travelling overseas to a country where the risk of catching rabies is high including Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Indonesia, and North Eastern Europe, you should visit your GP or travel health specialist 4-6 weeks prior to travelling. They will assess the risk of exposure, access to healthcare resources overseas and potential access to post-bite treatments. 

Vaccination against rabies before travel simplifies the management if you are exposed to rabies, 

If you require rabies vaccine prior to travelling, a total of three vaccines will be required before departure.

What do I do if I’m bitten by a suspect animal?

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal that may be rabid, post-bite treatment must be administered immediately. This is regardless of whether you have been vaccinated for not. 

 

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap or detergent and water for a minimum of 15 minutes 
  • Contact your doctor as soon as possible, an additional vaccine will need to be administered. The number and type of vaccine administered will be different, depending on whether you were have received your pre-exposure vaccination.

 
For further information on rabies prevention, speak to your healthcare professional.
 

VaccineHub offers general information only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice

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Sources & Citations

  1. NSW Government, Department of Health, Rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus infection fact sheet. Available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/factsheets/pages/rabies-australian-bat-lyssavirus-infection.aspx (accessed 5 April 2018).
  2. NSW Government, Department of Health, Rabies information for travellers. Available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/factsheets/pages/rabies-travel.aspx (accessed 5 April 2018).
  3. Victorian Government, Department of Health and Human Services, Rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus.  Available at https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/infectious-diseases/disease-information-advice/rabies-australian-bat-lyssavirus (accessed 5 April 2018).
  4. Victorian State Government, Better Health Channel, Travel immunisation. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/travel-immunisation (accessed 5 April 2018).
  5. Australian Government, Department of Health, Immunisation for Travel. Available at https://beta.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/immunisation-for-travel (accessed 5 April 2018).
  6. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition, 3.2 Vaccination for International Travel. Available at http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook10-home~handbook10part3~handbook10-3-2 (accessed 5 April 2018).
  7. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition, 4.16 Rabies and other lyssaviruses (including Australian bat lyssavirus). Available at http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook10-home~handbook10part4~handbook10-4-16 (accessed 5 April 2018).
  8. World Health Organisation, Rabies Fact Sheet. Available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/ (accessed 5 April 2018).
  9. World Health Organisation, Distribution of Human Risk of Contacting Rabies, Worldwide 2013. Available at http://www.who.int/rabies/Global_distribution_risk_humans_contracting_rabies_2013.png?ua=1 (accessed 5 April 2018).
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rabies. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html (accessed 5 April 2018).
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rabies Transmission. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/transmission/index.html (accessed 5 April 2018).
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rabies Transmission – Exposure to the Virus. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/transmission/exposure.html (accessed 5 April 2018).
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rabies Signs and Symptoms. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/symptoms/index.html (accessed 5 April 2018).
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rabies around the World. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/world/index.html (accessed 5 April 2018).
  15. Australian Government. Department of Health. National Notafiable Diseases Surveillance System. Number of notifications for all diseases by year, Australia, 1991 to 2017 and year-to-date notifications for 2018. Available at: http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/source/rpt_2.cfm (accessed 3 May 2018).

SPANZ.RABIE.18.04.0156 - Date of preparation May 2018

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