Rabies causes spasms, extreme thirst, fear of water (hydrophobia), madness and paralysis. Once symptoms have developed, it is almost always fatal. Rabies is usually spread through the saliva of an animal that is carrying the virus.

High-risk areas

Rabies is found in animals almost everywhere, but most human cases occur in:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Latin America
  • South America

Vaccination against rabies is usually carried out as a precautionary measure, in case you are bitten by an animal that might have rabies and medical attention is not available.

The rabies vaccine is recommended for anyone who is:

  • travelling to an area where rabies is common in animals (such as jungle habitats) for one month or more, and where there is no access to prompt and safe medical care
  • travelling to an area where rabies is common and carrying out activities that expose them to rabies, such as trekking in a jungle
  • working abroad in close contact with animals, such as vets or animal handlers at zoos

The vaccine

Two rabies vaccines are available in the UK. Vaccination usually requires a course of three doses for protection. The second dose is given seven days after the first. The third dose is given 21 or 28 days after the first, depending on which vaccine is used.

Vaccination should be completed before your departure to allow your body to develop full immunity. Booster doses are usually only recommended for people at high risk of rabies (such as vets).

There is no minimum age for one of the rabies vaccines, and the other is usually given from one year of age onwards.