Rabies Vaccination

Rabies is an acute and fatal viral infection that causes inflammation of the spinal cord and the brain (encephalomyelitis).

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Rabies is found in over 150 countries around the world and an estimated to cause tens of thousands of deaths in endemic countries. Children are especially vulnerable to rabies and 40% of bites occur in children under the age of 15 years.  95% of deaths from rabies occur in the Indian Subcontinent, Africa and South East Asia.

If someone who is unvaccinated against Rabies is infected, Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (HRIG) could be a lifesaver. However, HRIG is often unavailable or unreliable in many countries. Without HRIG, the results of a rabies infection is often fatal, and so a rabies vaccination before you travel is the best way to protect yourself.

Please note there is a national shortage of Rabies vaccine, please call in advance to check stock availability.

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Rabies virus is spread through contact with the saliva of an infected mammal. This is usually from a bite or scratch or from a licking broken skin. Although any mammal can spread rabies (including humans), the majority of cases are contracted from dogs. This is especially true in the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia. In other countries, rabies can be spread by  bats, monkeys and cats. Both domesticated and wild mammals can spread rabies infection.

Please note, at CityDoc, we are not able to provide post exposure vaccination. You will need to contact your local GP or A&E department, who can discuss your case directly with the Public Health England.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

The incubation for symptoms of rabies infection to develop varies considerably. The average duration is 1-3 months, but symptoms can develop in less than one week or more than 1 year from being bitten. Bites to the head and neck have a shorter incubation period than bites the the extremities.

Once symptoms have developed rabies is 100% fatal.

Rabies infection starts within non-specific early symptoms of fever, headache, muscle ache and loss of appetite. This is followed by either:

  • Furious rabies-the common form characterised by fear of water (hydrophobia), confusion, hyperactivity and death after a few days.
  • Paralytic rabies-slow paralysis of the muscles starting from the site of the bite followed eventually by death.


Once symptoms occur, there is no treatment for rabies. The aim of medical management following a bite is to prevent the virus from entering the brain and spinal cord. This is known as post exposure prophylaxis and needs to be started as soon as possible after being bitten.

Post exposure prophylaxis:

  • Immediate wound care
  • Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (HRIG)- a blood product, usually obtained from human sources, which contains rabies antibodies.
  • Active Rabies vaccination

Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (HRIG): 

HRIG is essential for those with the infection that have not received any rabies pre-travel vaccinations, but is often unavailable or unreliable in many countries. Rabies infection is often fatal, and the immunoglobulin could be a lifesaver. HRIG is manufactured from non-UK human blood products and therefore Hepatitis B might also be a risk factor.

The immunoglobulin provides immunity for the first 7 days post exposure so it is essential this is sought urgently for those not vaccinated.

If a patient cannot complete the whole course of rabies vaccinations before travel, just one vaccine will stop the need for immunoglobulin. Completion of the rabies vaccination course will be essential post exposure, but it will eradicate the need the immunoglobulin. The completion of the recommended 3 doses of rabies pre-travel gives optimum immunity.


Rabies is entirely preventable. There is a safe and effective vaccine against rabies, which if the course is completed given prior to exposure, will:

  • Prevent the risk of death by slowing virus progression to the brain and spinal cord.
  • Eliminates the need for Rabies immunoglobulin-as you will have formed your own antibodies
  • Reduce the number doses of vaccine (2 versus 5).

It is important to remember that any bite or scratch from a mammal in an endemic country could pose a risk of rabies infection. Therefore, avoid contact with domesticated and wild animals while traveling. Rabies infections causes animals to behave more aggressively and thus they are more likely to bite. It is particularly important to keep children away from animals and ensure that older children understand that they must report a bite as soon as possible for post exposure prevention to be carried out.

The rabies vaccine is an inactivated vaccine containing dead virus. It cannot cause the disease in the vaccinated individual, but allows effective antibodies to form against the virus which can defend the body quickly if exposure to rabies virus occurs. As time is of the essence when dealing with potential rabies infection, vaccination provides this. Although, it is important to bear in mind that it does not eliminate the need for urgent medical attention.


Vaccination prior to travel (pre-exposure) should be considered for anyone going to live in or who are travelling to high risk countries. This is particularly important if their travel activities are likely to increase the risk of exposure, such as trekking or travel in rural areas. It should also be considered if travelling to countries or areas where post exposure medical care may not be accessible within 24 hours.

The rabies vaccine should be considered for all children traveling to high risk areas to the increased chances of them being exposed and developing symptoms very quickly. The rabies vaccine can be given safely from birth onwards.

Common and rare side effects of the rabies vaccine

Common side effects include soreness at the injection site and mild fever. Rarely, more serious allergic reactions can occur.

Can children have the rabies vaccine?

Yes, children at risk of exposure to rabies can receive the vaccine, usually starting from a young age as recommended by health authorities.

Age range Method of Administration Number of Doses Interval Between Doses
From Birth onwards

Standard Schedule
Injection 3 doses 2nd dose given minimum 7 days after first and third dose given minimum 14 days after 2nd dose.
From Birth onwards

Accelerated Schedule (where insufficient time for standard)
Injection 3 doses 2nd dose given at least 3 days after first dose and 3rd dose given at least 4 days after 2nd. Followed by a 4th dose 12 months after dose 3.

Post-exposure management

It is imperative to seek medical attention as soon as possible if a bite or scratch is sustained in any rabies endemic area even if pre-travel vaccination has been given. Saliva should be thoroughly washed with soap and water for 10 mins and the wound irrigated with iodine solution or alcohol. This is very effective in removing virus from the bite site, providing it is prompt and thorough. Suturing of the wound site should be avoided and tetanus vaccination should be considered. If you have returned back to the UK having suffered a bite/scratch in a rabies endemic area, your case will need to be discussed with Public Health England. This is the case even if you have started a post exposure exposure rabies course after a bite abroad and have been advised to complete in the UK, you will need to attend your local GP or AE, who can discuss your case directly with the Public Health England.

At CityDoc, we are not able to provide post exposure vaccination as this is done through Public Health England.

Who is not able to have the rabies vaccine?

It’s not recommended for individuals with severe allergies to vaccine components or those with certain immune system disorders.

The rabies should not be given if you have:

  • History of severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of rabies vaccine or any of the components of the vaccine (see FAQ section)
  • Acute illness with high fever (greater than 38.5 degrees Celsius)


Due to the severity of rabies infection, vaccination can be given to pregnant women if there is a high risk of exposure and rapid access to post exposure management not available. Inactivated vaccines have not been show to cause harm in pregnancy.

Breast Feeding

Due to the severity of rabies infection, vaccination can be given to breast feeding mothers if there is a high risk of exposure and rapid access to post exposure management not available.

Common Side Effects

Local reactions at injection site-redness, swelling, pain.

Less commonly-headaches, muscle aches and fever

How does rabies interact with other vaccines?

The rabies vaccine does not interact with any other vaccines. Thus, it can be given at the same time or any time before or after all other vaccines, including yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid vaccines.

Rabies vaccine is essential for travellers to regions where rabies is prevalent, especially in rural areas of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. It’s also crucial for those involved in activities that might bring them into contact with wild or domestic animals.

Rabies vaccination provides protection for a specific period, typically 1-3 years, after which a booster dose may be required for ongoing immunity.

A rabies booster is typically advised every 1-3 years based on individual risk assessment and potential exposure.

High-risk countries include many parts of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, especially areas with stray dogs.

The cost of the rabies vaccine varies depending on your healthcare provider, however, currently at CityDoc intramuscular £72 per dose (3 required) and intradermal £84 per dose (3 required) . It’s usually not covered for travel purposes by public health services.

The rabies vaccine is not typically free on the NHS for travel purposes but may be available for certain occupational risks.

1) Is the vaccine safe?

The rabies vaccine is made form killed virus and cannot cause infection in the vaccinated individual. The vaccine has been around for a long tine and there is extensive clinical data as well as post marketing data on rabies vaccine. 

Severe reactions to the vaccien are very rare. The main concern is allergic reaction, which can occur with any vaccine or drugs. Cases of Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder have been reported after rabies vaccine, but this happens so rarely that it is not known whether they are related to the vaccine.

2) What happens if I cannot receive all three doses of the rabies vaccine prior to travel?

One or two doses of the rabies vaccine removes the need for rabies immunoglobulin to be administered post exposure. As this can be difficult to obtain in many countries and needs to be administered as soon as possible, even one dose of the rabies vaccine is worth having prior to travel.  However, you would still require the full course of post exposure vaccines (5 doses).

If you do have 1 or 2 doses prior to travel, you can complete the course where you left off on your return without needed to restart the vaccination course. 

3) If I get bitten while travelling, can I receive my post exposure treatment through CityDoc 

It is important that once you are bitten, post exposure management is instituted immediately in the country you are in. At CityDoc, we do not provide vaccination post exposure. This is because all potential bites and cases of rabies are managed by specialists at Pubic Health England (or Health Protection Scotland). They will carry out a detailed risk assessment and send the vaccination and/or immunoglobulin to your GP or NHS setting and will follow up afterwards.

Therefore, if you have returned to the UK and sustained a bite while travelling, please let your GP know urgently to attend A+E. 

Rabies is a fatal illness. Do not ignore any bite or scratch or lick to broken skin from an animal while travelling. Aways seek medical help immediately. 

4) Can vaccine courses be completed with different rabies vaccine brands?

Yes-the rabies vaccines available are all interchangeable to one another Therefore, course started with rabipur can be be continued with Rabies BP and vice versa. 

5) Can I have the vaccine if I feel unwell?

The vaccine can be given following assessment by a clinician in minor illnesses where there is no fever. However, if there is a high temperature associated with the illness, then vaccination should be postponed until you are recovered

Written by Travel Health and Vaccination Lead Derek Evans

Edited on 03-11-2023
Next edit on 26-11-2024

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Pre-Travel Advice

Our pre-travel consultations are with experienced travel health specialists and pharmacists who will assess the impact of any pre-existing medical conditions along with your vaccine requirements. They will discuss in detail countries at risk, precautions you can take to avoid exposure and how to travel safely. We also highly recommend visiting the government websites which has the latest travel news and advice for every destination.

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