Two decades ago, an extremely effective new rabies vaccine regimen was developed. The vaccine may be administered to protect people at high risk for rabies (pre-exposure). It may also be given after a person is exposed to rabies (post-exposure), but it is only effective when administered before the onset of symptoms. Some possible side effects of the vaccine can include fever, headache, nausea, dizziness, and pain or swelling at the injection site. There are also vaccines available for pets and other domestic animals. Be sure to have your pets vaccinated and keep their vaccinations up to date.
What Is the Rabies Vaccine?
There is no treatment for rabies after rabies symptoms appear; however, two decades ago, rabies research scientists developed an extremely effective new rabies vaccine regimen that provides protection against rabies. This vaccine works in two ways. It works when administered after an exposure (post-exposure prophylaxis), or for protection before an exposure occurs (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
Although rabies among humans is rare in the United States, every year an estimated 18,000 people receive the rabies vaccine for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and an additional 40,000 receive the rabies vaccine for post-exposure prophylaxis.
There are also cat, ferret, horse, sheep, cattle, and dog rabies vaccines.
Pre-exposure treatment with the rabies vaccine is recommended for people in high-risk groups. These high-risk groups include:
- Veterinarians, animal handlers, and certain laboratory workers
- Other people whose activities bring them into frequent contact with rabies virus, or potentially rabid bats, raccoons, skunks, cats, dogs, or other species at risk for having rabies
- International travelers who are likely to come in contact with animals in areas where dog rabies is relatively common (such as in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America) and who lack immediate access to appropriate medical care.
People who work with live rabies virus in research laboratories or vaccine production facilities are at the highest risk of unapparent exposures. Such people should have a serum (blood) sample tested for antibodies to rabies virus every six months and receive a booster vaccine when necessary. Healthcare providers do not generally recommend routine pre-exposure prophylaxis with the rabies vaccine in other situations.