Rabies and Travel
In developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, there are problems controlling dog rabies, and travel to such countries may put people at greater risk for becoming infected. Before traveling abroad, be sure you understand your risk of exposure to rabies and know how to handle an exposure should it arise. Some people may wish to receive a pre-exposure vaccination for rabies before they travel.
Rabies and the rabies-like viruses can occur in animals anywhere in the world. In most countries, the risk of rabies in an encounter with an animal and the precautions necessary to prevent rabies are the same as they are in the United States. When traveling, it is always sensible to avoid approaching any wild or domestic animal.
The developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America may present a greater risk for rabies. Dog rabies is often common in such countries, and preventive treatment for human rabies may be difficult to obtain. The impact of rabid dogs in these countries -- where tens of thousands of people die of the disease each year -- cannot be overstated.
Unlike programs in developed countries, dog rabies vaccine programs in developing countries have not always been successful. Rates of post-exposure rabies treatment in some developing countries are about 10 times higher than in the United States, and sometimes, the rates of human rabies are 100 times higher.
Before traveling abroad, consult a healthcare provider, travel clinic, or health department about your risk of exposure to rabies, and how to handle an exposure, should it arise.
If you are traveling to a rabies-endemic country, you should consult your healthcare provider about the possibility of receiving a pre-exposure vaccination against rabies. Pre-exposure vaccination is suggested if:
- Your planned activity will bring you into contact with wild or domestic animals. For instance, if you are a biologist, veterinarian, or agriculture specialist who will be working with animals.
- You will be visiting remote areas where medical care is difficult to obtain, or may be delayed (for example: hiking through remote villages where dogs are common).
- You are staying longer than a month in an area where dog rabies is common (the longer you stay, the greater your chance of an encounter with an animal).
Pre-exposure rabies treatment is given for several reasons. First, although pre-exposure vaccination does not eliminate the need for additional therapy after a rabies exposure, it simplifies therapy by eliminating the need for human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and decreases the number of doses needed. This is a point of particular importance for people at high risk of being exposed to rabies in areas where immunizing products may not be readily available. Second, it may protect people whose post-exposure therapy might be delayed. Finally, it may provide partial protection to people with unapparent exposures to rabies.