Rabies Vaccine

The Rabies Vaccine is an almost essential vaccine to have for travellers, or those working in areas with exposure to wild animals, and below you can find more information about the vaccine.

Overview

The Rabies Vaccine is what is known an active immunizing agent. It works by exposing your body to a small amount of the virus so that your body can then develop its own protection, or antibodies, against future exposure.

There are two cases for which you would likely have been given the Rabies Vaccine. The first occurs if you have been bitten, scratched, or licked by an animal that is known to possibly have rabies. This is known as post-exposure prophylaxis. Alternatively, it will be given to those whom it is believed will be coming into an increased risk of contracting rabies. For example, this would be those who are travelling to high-risk areas for longer than a month, to those who work in risky jobs such as being a veterinarian or animal handler, or those who take vacations to wild locations with wild animals. This is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis.

The rabies infection should be taken very seriously, as the consequences can be very severe, and often fatal. In the US and Canada, the most common animals to pass on the rabies infection to humans are foxes, racoons, bats and skunks. In some cases, it could also come from cattle, horses and swine. If you are travelling to other continents, like Africa or Asia, then dogs have the highest chance of giving you rabies.

If you have already received some form of treatment outside of Canada or the US, then you may still not be fully covered. Instead, you should visit your doctor for additional treatment as soon as you arrive home.

You should not attempt to obtain and administer the Rabies Vaccine on your own. Instead, it should be prescribed and administered by a trained healthcare professional, such as your doctor.

Conditions Treated

  • Rabies virus

Type of Medicine

  • Powder for suspension
  • Powder for solution
  • Injection

Side Effects

The Rabies Vaccine, just like most other vaccines and drugs, can lead to some unexpected side effects. Directly below is a list of side effects. If you experience any of them at any time, then you should contact your doctor immediately

  • Inflamed joints
  • Difficulty moving
  • Confusion
  • Numbness, crawling, burning, itching, tingling, "pins and needles", or prickling feelings
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Loss or lack of strength
  • Weakness, stiffness or muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or paralysis of your legs
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Rash
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hives, redness, or skin rash
  • Feeling of discomfort
  • Irritability
  • Swelling or puffiness of your eyelids or around the lips, tongue, face, or eyes
  • Stiffness of neck, arms, or legs
  • Painful, tender, or swollen lymph glands in the groin, armpit, or neck

As well as these effects above, you could experience others which don't necessarily call for immediate medical attention. Below is a list of such side effects which, though uncomfortable, aren't necessarily a cause for immediate concern and may instead pass with treatment. However, if they do worry you at any time, you can still contact your doctor for advice. They may be able to alter your dosage slightly to help counteract such effects.

More common:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal or stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • General feeling of illness or discomfort
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Joint or muscle aches
  • Swelling, redness, pain, or itching at the injection site

Incidence not known:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bruising at site of injection

Beyond this extensive list, you may also experience other side effects. If this is the case, and if the effects are worrying you, then you can still contact your doctor for advice.

Dosage

Either a doctor or trained nurse will administer a Rabies Vaccine. It is given in the upper arm muscle, or in the upper leg for young children. It is usually given in a hospital or clinic, you will not need to worry about following any dosages, as the doctor knows how much to give.

If you work with animals, are going to a country that more commonly has the rabies virus, or are a veterinarian, then you are at a higher risk of contracting rabies. In such cases, you will need to get three doses performed on three different days across a period of one month.

If you've recently been exposed to the rabies virus, but have already had the vaccine in the past, you will be required to have two different doses on two different days, within the period of one month.

If you have been exposed to the rabies virus, but have never received the vaccine, then you’ll have to get five doses, taken on five different days, across a period of one month.

Your doctor will be very clear in highlighting exactly how many injections and when you should get them done. It is vital that you do not miss those appointments, as by doing so you will miss out on the benefits of the vaccine.

If you do miss an appointment for whatever reason, then contact your doctor right away to either reschedule or get their advice.

Interactions

Before you are administered the Rabies Vaccine, your doctor will want to be aware of all other drugs you currently take. That includes prescriptions, non-prescriptions, supplements and any herbal remedies. There is a chance the vaccine may interact with them, so your dosages may need to be altered, or an alternative form of treatment followed. You should be open and honest about all drugs you take and be extra careful to clarify if you take chloroquine, as it is usually not recommended you take this alongside the Rabies Vaccine. However, it may well be the case you still have to consume both, but find a means to avoid any unwanted interactions.

Similarly, there are a number of different types of food and drink which can also cause interactions to occur. Your doctor will likely want to know what you eat, drink and whether or not you smoke. They may need to adjust your diet in some way to help avoid any unpleasant interactions with the Rabies Vaccine from occurring.

There may also be the chance that other medical problems you have will interact with the Rabies Vaccine. They will want a rundown of all medical conditions you have, so as to best advise on any possible complications. In particular, they will be interested to know if you have;

  • A severe illness with fever. The symptoms of this often get confused with the side effects of the Rabies Vaccine.
  • Problems with your immune system. This could possibly decrease the effectiveness of the Rabies Vaccine.

Warnings

To be more aware of any potential complications that could arise from taking the Rabies Vaccine, you will need to tell your doctor about any allergies you have. These allergies can be in relation to other drugs, preservatives, foods, animals, and dyes. If you have had an allergic reaction the Rabies Vaccine before, then make them fully aware of this.

The studies so far performed in children have not identified any specific problems resulting from taking the Rabies Vaccine. Similarly, its usefulness should still be the same.

As of writing, there is no information relating to the effects that the Rabies Vaccine would have on Geriatric patients, compared to others.

If you are pregnant, then your doctor will be best placed to advise whether or not the Rabies Vaccine is suitable for you to take. As of writing, there are not adequate studies looking into its risks on pregnant patients.

However, the studies performed on breastfeeding women have found that any risks it may pose are minimal. But again, your doctor will be able to weigh any potential risks against the benefits of taking it.

Throughout your visits, it is also important that your doctor sees you, in order to track your reaction to the vaccine. They may need to take blood tests to see how your body is reacting and to analyze any unwanted side effects.

Making the Rabies Vaccine requires using human blood. This does mean that there is a very small risk that you may be exposed to other viral diseases. However, when blood is donated, all donors are screen and tested to keep such transmissions to a minimum. If you are worried about this and would like to discuss the risks in more depth, you should ask your doctor.

As mentioned, you will need to fully disclose all other drugs you are taking alongside the Rabies Vaccine. Do not take any new drugs unless otherwise approved by your doctor. Similarly, do not continue to take any drugs they have said you shouldn't. This includes both prescriptions and non-prescriptions.

Storage

You will not be required to store the Rabies Vaccine at all. Instead, it is only administered by trained medical professionals in a clinical environment. The administering doctor or nurse will be responsible for its safe storage.

Summary

If you are thinking of travelling to an area which has a higher risk of contracting the rabies virus, it is strongly recommended you first get the Rabies Vaccine. However, if you have already been to such an area, and think there is a chance you could have contracted it, you should consult with your doctor immediately about the best course of action. If you work in a dangerous job that has you at risk of getting bitten by any wild animal, then the Rabies Vaccine may also be essential. If you have received some form of rabies treatment abroad then, once you arrive back in the UK, you should also still visit your doctor where they can assess your condition and advise on further treatment.

Once placed on a course of treatment, be sure to stick to all appointments. Failure to do so could greatly decrease the benefit the vaccine will have and place your health at an unnecessary risk. You should only ever receive the vaccine from a trained doctor following an in-depth consultation. They will need to first assess your medical condition to check it is suitable for you to receive. If you are worried about anything you have read or are experiencing unwanted side effects of the vaccine, then your doctor should be able to advise you on the best way to counteract these.

 

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Last Reviewed:
January 28, 2018
Last Updated:
January 27, 2018