Rabies is a rare but very serious infection of the brain and nerves. It's usually caught from the bite or scratch of an infected animal, most often a dog.
Rabies is found throughout the world, particularly in Asia, Africa and Central and South America. It's not found in the UK except in a small number of wild bats.
It's almost always fatal once symptoms appear, but treatment before this happens is very effective. There's also a vaccine for people at risk of being infected.
This page covers:
- How to avoid being bitten or scratched
- What to do if you've been bitten or scratched
- Rabies in the UK
You should consider getting vaccinated against rabies if:
- You're travelling to an area where rabies is common and you plan to stay for a month or more or there's unlikely to be quick access to appropriate medical care
- You're travelling to an area where rabies is common and you plan to do activities that could put you at increased risk of exposure to animals with rabies, such as running or cycling
Visit your GP or a travel clinic if you think you may need the vaccine. It's sometimes free, but most people have to pay.
Even if you've been vaccinated, you should still take precautions to avoid coming into contact with rabies if you're travelling in an area where rabies is found and get medical advice straight away if you've been bitten or scratched.
A few people may need the rabies vaccine because they could come into contact with rabies through their work. If you think this applies to you, speak to your occupational health department.
Read more about the rabies vaccination.
How to avoid being bitten or scratched
All mammals (including monkeys) can carry rabies, but it's most common in:
They can spread the infection if they bite or scratch you, or in rare cases if they lick an open wound or their saliva gets into your mouth or eyes. Rabies isn't spread through unbroken skin or between people.
While travelling in an area where rabies is a risk:
- Avoid contact with animals – some infected animals may behave strangely, but sometimes there may be no obvious signs they're infected
- Avoid touching any dead animals
If you're travelling with a child, make sure they're aware of the dangers and that they should tell you if they've been bitten, scratched or licked by an animal. Check them for any wounds if they come into contact with an animal.
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