Table of Contents

Where is Rabies Found?

Rabies exposure is a risk for travelers visiting the majority of countries in Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America.  Dogs bites are the main source of infection because many dogs are strays and can act aggressively.  Travelers may approach or try to feed dogs or puppies thinking they are pets and instead suffer a bite. Monkeys are also known to be aggressive and common at many temple and tourists sites throughout Southeast Asia.  Receiving the rabies vaccine for humans before exposure occurs is paramount to prevention.

In the US, rabies is more common in wild animals like bats and racoons.  However, any infected mammal can transmit the disease from biting or scratching.  If you find a bat in your house and live in the United States, read more about what actions you should take.  

How Dangerous is Rabies Infection?

A rabies infection that is left untreated is nearly always fatal in humans.  The rabies virus enters the body from the bite wound and begins to travel to the central nervous system.  Once symptoms appear, there is little that can be done to halt the disease.  After a potential rabies exposure, immediate medical treatment is needed, however, this can be difficult for people traveling internationally, especially for those in rural areas.  Due to poor health infrastructure in many countries the postexposure rabies injection may not be readily available.   
For some people that are bitten by a dog or monkey while traveling, they will have to leave the country they are visiting to find a rabies vaccine.  
If a bite from a suspicious animal occurs in the United States, an additional injection called the Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (HRIG) may be suggested along with the rabies vaccine.
Stray dogs pose a risk for rabies virus exposure to the international traveler. The best prevention is vaccination with the human rabies vaccine.
During international travel, most bites and rabies exposures occur from dogs. Avoid petting and approaching dogs that appear friendly

Who Needs the Human Rabies Vaccine for International Travel?

All travelers planning to visit medium and low income countries should consider vaccination. Street dogs can be common and aggressive and medical facilities often do not have the vaccine to administer after a bite.  Receiving the human rabies vaccine before travel is the safest option. 

Who is at Highest Risk?

Children have a greater chance of bites because they often approach animals out of curiosity. Additionally, travelers with repeat visits or with itineraries longer than 30 days should consider the rabies vaccination for humans.  This includes expatriates and individuals returning to visit friends and family.  Travel plans involving outdoor activities and visiting rural areas result in a greater chance of exposure including camping and caving. 

How Do I Protect Myself with Vaccination?

Prior to travel, two doses of the human rabies vaccine is given 7 days apart.  Some people with higher risk for exposure or with occupational risk will be recommended a third dose.  Long-term protection for travelers is available by receiving a third dose one year from the second dose.  

The rabies vaccine is administered into the muscle of the arm similar to other vaccines.  Soreness and mild swelling can occur after immunization.

Who Needs the Rabies Vaccine for Humans in the US?

Occupational risk for rabies virus exposure include veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinary technicians.  In addition, animal control workers, wildlife researchers, and people participating in caving (spelunking) are at risk.

What is Rabies Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis vs Rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis?

Receiving the human rabies vaccination as prevention before a bite occurs is called pre-exposure prophylaxis. If the human rabies vaccine is needed after an animal bite this is called postexposure prophylaxis.  Four rabies vaccines will be given if a person is unvaccinated and suffers an exposure.  Additionally, Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) is typically given for bite wounds in the unvaccinated. In that case, seek advice from the Department of Public Health. 

Where Can I Find the Rabies Vaccine for Humans Near Me?

Destination Health Travel Clinic offers the human rabies vaccination and rabies titer test at any of our three Massachusetts locations; Braintree – South ShoreSpringfield – Longmeadow, or Natick – Framingham. Book your appointment online or call our office and we’ll be happy to help answer any questions.  If you are a veterinary clinic looking to provide the human rabies vaccine and/or rabies titer for staff members, we offer an on-site option and can send a nurse to your office for groups of ten or more.

Rabies Titer (Serology) Testing Post- Vaccination

Many veterinary medicine professionals and international travelers who previously received the human rabies vaccine can verify their immune status with a simple rabies blood titer test.  During an appointment with Destination Health Clinic, a blood sample is taken and sent to a specialty lab and results return in 3-4 weeks.  Destination Health Clinic has a partnership with the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) to provide discounted rabies titers and vaccines to members and office staff.