Everything You Need To Know About Rabies

Everything You Need To Know About Rabies

Rabies is an extremely harmful viral disease that affects the brain and nervous system. 

The virus usually spreads to a person through the saliva of an infected animal. For example, when an infected animal bites a person, breaking their skin, then this can allow the disease to be transmitted. 

Another way the disease can be spread to humans is through a scratch or any other type of open wound where the infected animal has had contact. 

But what exactly is rabies? And how can you avoid catching it? This blog should help answer these questions.


Where is rabies found?

Map of South America with someone pointing a finger to it.

Rabies is very rarely found in the UK. There are a small number of bats that are considered to have rabies or a rabies-like virus; however, most UK cases of rabies in humans are caused by dog bites obtained abroad.

The areas where rabies can be more commonly found are Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.

The animals that are most commonly infected with rabies include cats, dogs, bats, racoons, and foxes.

There may be no obvious signs of an animal having rabies other than that they may behave strangely. So, when travelling to the areas of the world mentioned above, it is advisable to try to avoid contact with animals.


What happens when you have rabies?

An unwell woman clutching her head while she is laid on a bed.

Once the virus enters broken skin, it travels along the nerves to the spinal cord and then, if left untreated, to the brain at which point it will start multiplying. It does not travel through the bloodstream as it has a wide area to cover so the nervous system allows it to travel more effectively.

If the virus is not caught in time, then the brain can become inflamed which can cause behavioural changes, such as aggressive or psychotic behaviour. 

A person can go into a coma or die when paralysis affects multiple areas of the body or when airways become blocked. 


Rabies vaccination

A syringe and vial with a blank label.

If you’re planning to travel to Asia, Africa, or Central and South America, you should get the rabies vaccination at least four weeks before you’re due to travel.

In certain countries, there may be less medical care available which makes it more imperative that you have the full course of rabies vaccinations. 

The full vaccine course for rabies involves three doses administered over twenty-eight days.

If you’re wondering where you can get the rabies vaccine, most GPs or private health clinics can administer a rabies vaccination, which normally comes at a charge. The cost will vary, but each dose should be between £40 and £60.

There is a booster dose available for those who have already had the rabies vaccine. This booster dose should be considered by a person planning to travel to a commonly infected area when it has been over a year since they received the full vaccine course.

There can be side effects of the rabies vaccine, such as experiencing a high temperature, headaches, sickness, and/or a rash.


Symptoms of rabies

A woman wincing as she holds the side of her head and puts a glass of water on a side table.

Once the virus has entered the body, the symptoms of rabies may begin to show between three to twelve weeks after; however, the symptoms can sometimes appear much sooner or later than this.

The symptoms of rabies can include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggressiveness
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • High temperature
  • Muscle spasms
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Fear of water and light

Generally, once the above symptoms appear, rabies can be fatal. If someone suspects that they have been exposed to the virus, then they should seek medical attention before symptoms occur.

When attending a doctor’s appointment, the infected person should be able to provide information, such as what type of animal bit/scratched them, where it happened, and what happened to the animal after contact was made. 



A vial of blood held by a doctor wearing a white glove.

A person suspected of having rabies will have to have several tests to be accurately diagnosed. 

Samples of their saliva, serum, spinal fluid and skin biopsies will be analysed. Blood tests alone are not sufficient enough to be able to conclude whether a person has rabies or not.

Now that you know a little more about rabies and how serious the infection can be, you may be considering booking an appointment to receive a rabies vaccination. This will be particularly necessary if you’re planning to travel to areas where rabies is commonly found.

The Travel Health Clinic offers numerous vaccinations including the rabies vaccine. If you would like to book your rabies vaccination appointment, remember to allow at least four weeks before you’re due to travel so that you can receive the full vaccination course. 


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