Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal.

Please consult your doctor, pharmacist or a travel health clinic for further information.

Key facts

  • Rabies is still present and still almost always fatal when left untreated2
  • Rabies is estimated to cause 59,000 deaths annually with the vast majority occurring in Africa and Asia2
  • Travellers may have misconceptions about rabies and may underestimate their risks for exposure3,4
  • European tourism to developing countries, where rabies persists as a serious risk, is on the rise2,5
  • Based on information from 2015, most travellers do not seek pre-travel medical advice from a healthcare professional3
  • A bite, a scratch or even saliva on broken skin can cause fatal infection6
  • Rabid animals act in surprising, unpredictable ways7

What is rabies?

A lethal bug which infects travellers who are bitten or scratched by an infected animal. Rabies is deadly unless it’s treated straight away, so travellers in high-risk countries should get help immediately if they are bitten or scratched.1,2

Risk areas for rabies


How do you get rabies?

Being bitten or scratched by infected animals such as dogs (which account for 99% of human cases), bats or foxes.8 The rabies virus is found in saliva.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

The initial symptoms can include pain and tingling/numbness around the site of the wound, nausea, vomiting, and even sometimes a fear of water (hydrophobia).8 As it spreads through the brain, it can cause hyperactivity, changes in consciousness and paralysis.2 In the majority of cases, it usually takes 1-3 months before symptoms start to show, although this has been shown to take up to 1 year.8

How serious is rabies?

Once symptoms appear it can be fatal.8

Can I prevent getting rabies?

You can take the following precautions to help reduce your risk of infection:

  • Visit your nearest convenient pharmacy or specialist travel health clinic for a risk assessment before your trip
  • Avoid contact with animals that may bite9
  • If you are bitten or scratched, the wound should be cleaned thoroughly with plenty of soap and water, and treated with a disinfectant containing iodine or another substance that kills viruses. Seek medical help immediately.9

Useful links


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rabies: (Last accessed March 2023).
  2. WHO. What is Rabies. Available online: (Last accessed March 2023).
  3. McIntosh I. Pre-Travel Health Consultation. Journal of Travel Medicine. 2015; 22,3;143-144.
  4. International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Travel Health Journal. 5 misconceptions about rabies. Available online: (Last accessed March 2023).
  5. Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries. European outbound tourism. Available online: (Last accessed March 2023).
  6. WHO. Rabies Key Facts. (Last accessed March 2023).
  7. Weese J & Fulford M. Viral Diseases. In: Companion Animal zoonoses. 2010. (Last accessed March 2023).
  8. World Health Organisation. Weekly Epidemiological Record. WHO Position Paper on Rabies. April 2018. Available online: (Last accessed March 2023).
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow Book 2020. Chapter 4 Travel-Related Infectious Diseases. Rabies. June 2019. Available online: (Last accessed March 2023).

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