Symptoms of rabies 

The initial symptoms of rabies are mild, but they quickly become serious.

The incubation period

The incubation period is the time it takes for symptoms to develop after a person is infected with the virus. The incubation period for rabies is usually two to 12 weeks, although it can be as short as four days. It is unusual for the incubation period to last for more than a year.

The closer the site of infection is to your brain, the shorter the incubation period. For example, a bite to your face, head or neck will have a shorter incubation period than a bite to your arm or leg.

The length of the incubation period is important as it's the only period in which treatment can be successful.

Initial symptoms

The initial symptoms of rabies are often vague and it can be easy to mistake them for other, less serious, types of infection. They include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • feeling generally unwell
  • feeling scared or anxious

Around half of people also experience pain and a tingling sensation at the infection site.

Advanced symptoms

Initial symptoms of rabies last for two to 10 days before more severe symptoms start to develop. These typically include aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, agitation and producing lots of saliva. 

When to seek medical advice

If you're in a part of the world known to be affected by rabies, always seek medical advice as soon as possible if you're bitten or scratched by an animal, particularly a dog. You can also catch rabies if you have an open wound that is licked by an infected animal.

In the UK, rabies is only found in bats. However, always seek medical attention if you're bitten by a bat or if you think someone in your care who is unable to report a bite may have been bitten (for example, if you find a bat in a young child's room).

Page last reviewed: 17/02/2015

Next review due: 17/02/2017