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CDC Health Information for International Travel 2008

What Every Traveler Should Know about Rabies
This information is current as of today, January 14, 2009 at 13:56

Updated: October 02, 2008

CDC Reflects on World Rabies Day – September 28, 2008
What every traveler should know about rabies

Backpackers in rural area

Each year approximately 50,000 human deaths occur worldwide from rabies, most of them in children. In the United States, the risk to people for getting rabies is low, but in certain parts of the world the threat is very real. Many factors contribute to a country’s ability to control rabies in its animal population. For this reason, the risk of human exposure to rabies can vary, depending on the country. This is why all travelers should know how to protect themselves from the disease.

Rabies is a rapidly progressing, deadly disease that affects the nervous system. It is caused by a virus that is almost always transmitted by an animal bite. Other ways of infection include getting saliva from a rabid animal directly into eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin. Although all mammals are believed to be able to carry rabies, dogs and certain wildlife species, such as monkeys and bats, are the primary source of rabies infections in humans.

Travelers most at risk for rabies are those who are―

  • Traveling to areas where rabies is common. (You can look up our travel health recommendations according to rabies and other risks for each country you are planning to visit on our Destinations page.)
  • Working closely with animals of unknown rabies exposure or vaccination history.
  • Planning to spend a lot of time in a rural area or doing outdoor activities such as bicycling, camping, or hiking. These activities increase the risk for coming in contact with animals.
  • Traveling with children. Children are considered at higher risk for rabies because of their tendency to play with animals.
Dog standing in the doorway to a house

Ways to stay protected from rabies while traveling:

It is very important that travelers protect themselves from coming into contact with rabies. A few simple ways to do so are to:

  • Do not touch animals, even pets. Pets may not be vaccinated as they are in the United States.
  • Supervise children closely, especially around animals. This is important since children are more likely to be bitten by animals, may not report the bite, and may have more severe injuries from animal bites.
  • Clean any animal bite or scratch wound with large amounts of soap and water (and povidone iodine, if available) to reduce the risk of rabies if you or a member of your party is bitten or scratched by an animal. Travelers should then immediately go to a local doctor or hospital for advice about treatment. After being treated locally, travelers should contact their doctor at home or their state health department to report a possible rabies exposure.
For further information regarding seeking health care abroad, please refer toRabies (in CDC Health Information for International Travel 2008 or the “Yellow Book”).
  • Page last updated: October 02, 2008
  • Content source:
    Division of Global Migration and Quarantine
    National Center for Preparedness, Detection, and Control of Infectious Diseases
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