Rabies vaccination 

A vaccination that offers protection against rabies is recommended for people who are felt to be at risk.

Who should be vaccinated?

In the UK, rabies vaccination is recommended for:

  • laboratory workers who may be required to handle samples of the rabies virus
  • people handling bats
  • people travelling to an area for one month or more where rabies is common in animals, and where there is no access to prompt and safe medical care
  • people travelling to an area where rabies is common and carrying out activities that expose them to rabies, such as trekking in a jungle
  • people working abroad in close contact with animals, such as vets or animal handlers at zoos

The vaccine

Two rabies vaccines are available in the UK. Vaccination usually requires a course of three doses for protection. The second dose is given seven days after the first. The third dose is given 21 or 28 days after the first, depending on which vaccine is used.

The injections are not painful and are given into your upper arm. There are usually no serious side effects.

Vaccination should be completed before your departure to allow your body to develop full immunity.

Bat handlers who regularly handle bats are entitled to a free pre-exposure vaccine on the NHS - your GP will order this from Public Health England.

For other groups, the vaccine is not available on the NHS and should be obtained through their employer’s occupational health department.

If you need to pay for the vaccination privately, you can either visit your GP surgery or a travel clinic. The price for the complete course of three doses ranges from £120 to £150.

As a general rule, pregnant women are usually advised to avoid rabies vaccinations. The vaccine is usually only recommended if the potential risk of exposure to rabies is thought to be high and there is limited access to medical care.

Further doses

For those people who continue to be at risk of rabies exposure (because of their job, for example), further doses of the vaccine are needed to maintain immunity.

If this is the case, a single reinforcing dose of vaccine should be given one year after the first course is completed. Further doses should be given at three- to five-year intervals after that.

Further doses are not usually recommended for travellers, unless it has been more than 10 years since you were first vaccinated and you are visiting an area with a high risk of rabies.

Side effects

After having the rabies vaccine, some people experience temporary soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site for 24-48 hours after the vaccination. In rare cases, some people may also experience:

  • a mild fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • vomiting
  • a rash

Severe reactions are very rare.

 

Areas of high risk

Rabies is a disease that can be found throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Central America and in some parts of Eastern Europe.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) provides a detailed list of countries that have rabies.

Page last reviewed: 06/12/2012

Next review due: 06/12/2014