Most of us in the U.S. don’t think about rabies unless we have pets and have to innoculate them. But in most parts of the world, animals are not immunized for rabies. Each year it kills 50,000 people, mostly children, as it is spread by bites and when saliva from an infected animal gets into the eyes, nose, and mouth or through broken skin. Dogs account for most cases but foxes, raccoons, monkeys and bats are also sources of infection. Rabies is almost 100% fatal in humans. So what should travelers do to protect themselves and their families from rabies?
Avoid animal bites by avoiding touching all animals, including wild animals and pets. Pets in other countries may not have been vaccinated against rabies. Supervise children closely, especially around dogs, cats, and wildlife, such as monkeys. 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.
If you are going abroad for an extended period of time or will work around animals, or spend time in wilderness areas, consider getting pre exposure vaccination to rabies. This will not prevent you from getting rabies but will enable you more time to get treatment. Act quickly if an animal bites or scratches you.
Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. See a doctor right away, even if you don’t feel sick or your wound is not serious. To prevent rabies, you may need to start a series of vaccinations immediately. Be prepared to travel back to the United States or to another area for treatment adequate vaccination for exposure to rabies is not available in all parts of the world.
Before your trip, find out if your health insurance covers health care overseas and medical evacuation. If it does not, consider buying supplemental health insurance for your trip.