Last weekend a British woman died in the UK after being bitten by a rabid dog in South-East Asia. Travellers should be aware of the risks – take a look at the facts here
Rabies is an almost 100% fatal disease without treatment. Only a handful of people have ever survived it following the onset of symptoms.
Over 55,000 people die of rabies each year and more than 150 countries are affected. The virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot always tell if an animal is infected, it may look perfectly normally and not necessarily be ‘foaming at the mouth’. Dogs are the main culprits, but infected animals can include cats, monkeys, bats and more.
If bitten, scratched or even licked on any open wounds by an animal, even somebody's pet, all travellers should take the situation seriously and act immediately. The area should be scrubbed with soap and water for at least five minutes and then either iodine or a high percent alcohol (such as local spirit) poured onto the area. This should hopefully kill the virus at the site. If the traveller hasn’t received any rabies vaccinations before, they should immediately seek medical attention. The bite/scratch/lick will need to be assessed by a doctor. If it is thought likely to be from a rabid animal, you basically have as long as it takes for the virus to get to your nervous system before you die, and this can take days, weeks or even months.
To prevent this from happening, firstly you will need a blood product called Immunoglobulin ideally within 24 hours of the bite. The Immunoglobulin is basically a blood product made up from immunised people’s blood. Once it is injected around the wound it instantly starts killing the rabies virus at the source. It will not be able to eradicate it completely, so you will also require five injections of the normal rabies vaccine given over a one month period. The problem with choosing this method to treat rabies is that many countries (particularly the high risk ones) do not stock the Immunoglobulin and even if they do, often it is of poor quality and therefore presents further risks to the traveller.
Victims are therefore only able to have the normal five injections of vaccinations and have to ‘hope’ that they work in time.
If travellers choose to be vaccinated before they travel, then the treatment is a lot easier and safer. If they have three injections before they go, they will then only require two further injections of the normal vaccine (available everywhere), afterwards – just two days apart. We advise they get these as soon as possible after a bite or scratch, however they don’t require the blood product within 24 hours, which takes some pressure off.
The most important thing to remember is to stay away from all animals on your trips; don’t feed monkeys as when you run out of food they can turn nasty and don’t play with the ‘cute’ puppy on the beach!
Becky Swadling RN Dip TravMed RCPS (Glasgow) Clinical Nurse Trainer writes for Nomad Travel – a travel savvy company selling gear, equipment, clothes and accessories for trips all over the world. They also offer vaccinations at their health clinics, including rabies vaccinations. Wanderlust readers receive a 10% discount (not available on already discounted products) with promotional code: WLUST11.
Find out more about rabies from Wanderlust's very-own Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth here: