Public Health England has issued a health warning aimed at travellers highlighting the risk of rabies.
Following the recent news whereby a UK resident sadly died after becoming infected with rabies following a cat bite during a visit to Morocco, there is need to remind travellers of the dangers of viral infections when outside of the UK.
Rabies is a virus infection of the brain which is usually transmitted from contact with an infected animal, through injuries such as bites and scratches.
Dogs are the main source of infection in most parts of the world, although almost any mammal can become infected.
Although not a concern in the UK, PHE highlights the dangers of animals whilst travelling:
‘Rabies is common in other parts of the world, especially in Asia and Africa. All travellers to rabies-affected countries should avoid contact with dogs, cats and other animals wherever possible, and seek advice about the need for rabies vaccine prior to travel.’
When visiting countries with rabies endemic it is best to avoid contact with animals especially stray or wild animals.
People are usually infected following a deep bite or scratch from an animal with rabies, and transmission to humans by rabid dogs accounts for 99% of cases.
The virus cannot infiltrate intact skin.
Initial symptoms of rabies include a fever with pain and unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking, or burning sensation (paraesthesia) at the wound site. As the virus spreads to the central nervous system, progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develops.
What to do if bitten?
If a traveller has been bitten or licked, they should immediately wash the wound with soap and water as soon as they can. That will inactivate and wash out a lot of the virus (if there is virus present), and urgently seek medical care.
Once symptoms have developed, left untreated rabies is almost always fatal. Rabies is a 100% vaccine-preventable disease.
You should consider getting vaccinated against rabies if you are travelling to a country which is considered high-risk especially if you’re planning on travelling to more remote locations.
Rabies vaccination requires a course of 3 vaccinations for complete protection. Depending on how much time you have prior to travelling would determine which course of treatment is suitable for you.
Alternatively, those with time constraints can opt for the accelerated rabies vaccination course.
The accelerated option can be provided over 7 days; giving full protection within a week.
This option is suitable for spontaneous travellers and last-minute business trips to countries affected by rabies.
All travellers who think they have been exposed to the rabies virus should urgently seek medical care and post-exposure vaccinations.
- If you’ve had your immunisations, you will require two doses of rabies vaccination, 3 days apart.
- If you are exposed to rabies and have not been vaccinated, a more intensive treatment of 5 vaccinations over a 30-day period, plus an injection of immunoglobulin is required.
Overall travellers should take precautions when travelling to countries where rabies is present.
Rabies: The Facts by The World Health Organisation
For more information on the risk of rabies in different countries, see the country information pages on the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s (NaTHNaC’s) website, TravelHealthPro.