Rabies ‘Scares’ are common in Australiaon Travellers. Don’t feed monkeys in Thailand or Bali!
Rabies is one of those conditions that strikes fear into most people.
Why is Rabies The stuff of Horror Movies?
But let’s put this into context. The chances of getting rabies when sensible precautions are taken is, for most people, very small.
The issue is more that a scratch from a stray dog in a rabies area will, at the very least, cause a lot of anxiety. Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) may require an injection of rabies immunoglobulin. The problem is that there is a persistent worldwide shortage of Rabies Immunoglobulin. This is not a theoretical issue – but an ongoing issue that often requires an early return to Australia.
Rabies is carried by mammals with dogs the main culprits amongst local populations. Dogs are immunised against Rabies in Europe and North America. Wild animals that carry rabies include foxes & Racoons. Bats are an important source of rabies in Australia.
In 2015 there were 303 assessments of potential Rabies exposure from overseas travel. Almost half of these assessments were from monkey bites.
The 2015 NSW report gives the frequency of location for an animal bite or scratch that required a Rabies Assessment:
A Rabies-free country can be thought of as a country where rabies does not circulate in mammals other than bats.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan, PNG and Pacific island nations are currently free of rabies. However, rabies is carried by bats in PNG (and Australia).
Rabies is present in Indonesia. Bali was considered rabies-free until an outbreak in 2008 that involved dogs and humans. There have been regular outbreaks since 2012, with over 12 people dying in 2015.
Feeding monkeys is the activity most often leading to scratch or bites.
If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal that potentially carries rabies then you should:
There are three categories of Rabies exposure:
Category 2 exposure will require A course of 4 rabies vaccinations started immediately.
Category 3 exposure will require the immunoglobulin as well as the 4-course vaccines. In Australia, Rabies Immunoglobulin is sourced from public health units after following stringent clinical protocols. This is injected in and around the wound with the rest given into muscle.
It’s important to know that If you’ve previously had a course of Rabies vaccine then you still need post-exposure vaccination for category 2 or 3 exposure.
However, you will only need 2 rather than 4 vaccines. The first vaccine is given as soon as possible, and the second vaccine is 3 days later. The good news is also that you won’t need the 3rd and 4th doses of vaccine, nor will you need the hard-to-get Immunoglobulin.
Three vaccines are given over a 21 to 28 day period.
The Australian National Immunisation Handbook states:
“Travellers to rabies-enzootic regions … should be advised about pre-travel rabies vaccination ..”
Please go to Our Rabies Vaccination section for details.