Following a recent detection in the UK, “Rabies” is now the word on everybody’s lips. This neglected tropical disease is not often thought about, however, officials are now urging the members of the public who are at high-risk of exposure to the disease to get vaccinated.
What is rabies and how is it spread?
Rabies is an encephalitis (a life-threatening inflammation of the brain) caused by viral infection and is almost invariably fatal once symptoms develop. This zoonotic disease can be transmitted between species and is the leading cause of death out of all diseases spread from animals to humans.
Rabies is spread primarily through a bite from an infected animal, but also uncommonly from contact between contaminated saliva or mucus. More than 59,000 people die each year from rabies worldwide, with 95% of these deaths occurring in Africa and Asia.
Who are most at risk?
People most at risk of being exposed to rabies are those travelling, particularly when visiting high-risk areas for more than one month or with limited access to quick medical attention. Special precaution should be considered when planning to do activities like running or cycling in these areas. People can be at risk through work if they are regularly handling bats or imported animals, this includes laboratory workers who handle rabies samples.
When should you require medical attention?
It is important for medical practitioners to assess all animal bites, especially bat bites in the UK but any bite, scratch or lick from an animal overseas should be checked. Although rabies can be contracted from many species, dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans!
Is contracting the disease preventable?
Fortunately, rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease. A course of rabies vaccine involves 3 injections into the upper arm, usually over a period of 28 days. This should be taken into consideration if receiving the treatment before travelling, as the full course of 3 doses must be completed with enough time for it to protect you before you leave.
If you have received a vaccination before but continue to be at risk (for example – through work), “booster” doses are available to ensure that you stay protected. For travellers, if you were vaccinated more than 1 year prior but are travelling to a high-risk area, 1 booster dose may be considered. You can talk to your doctor and/or employers about the booster doses you might need.
When is treatment necessary?
Whether a person is vaccinated or not, they should always seek immediate medical help if they have been bitten or scratched by an animal that may have had rabies. Immediate treatment involves extensive wound washing and may include an injection of antibodies against the virus. However, this post-exposure treatment is not always enough to stop rabies from taking hold, therefore a full course of rabies vaccination can greatly help to prevent infection and death.
Where can I go to get the rabies vaccine?
If you are at high-risk of exposure to rabies through your work, then your employer should be able to provide it to you free of charge. However, if you are travelling – rabies vaccinations may be available to purchase at your local GP or at a private travel vaccination clinic.
At Pinches Medical and Wellbeing, we provide rabies vaccination and advice as part of our travel clinics. For more details or to book an appointment please call reception on 01625 704777