What is it for?
This vaccine protects you from getting rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV), a closely related disease. Both diseases are caused by viruses.
Although rabies does not occur in Australia, it does occur in other countries. People travelling to Bali and other popular destinations in Asia, Africa and Central and South America, should discuss rabies vaccination with their doctor before travelling.
Rabies and ABLV is spread in the saliva of animals (e.g. dogs and monkeys) or bats infected with the virus. The saliva containing the virus usually enters the body when you are bitten by an infected animal. The virus travels in the bloodstream from the wound to the brain, where it causes swelling (inflammation), and the characteristic symptoms of rabies.
The symptoms of rabies usually appear about 3-8 weeks after being infected. Initial symptoms include appetite loss, fever, muscle aches (myalgia), tiredness, cough, sore throat, headache, anxiety, agitation, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms include hyperactivity, disorientation, excited behaviour, sensitivity to air (aerophobia) and fear of drinking water (hydrophobia), and salivating excessively. The ABL virus causes paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death. Both infections are almost always fatal if symptoms develop.
Vaccines containing inactivated rabies virus are available to prevent these diseases. In Australia, you will only be given the vaccine if you have been in close contact with, or bitten by, a bat.
For more information, read the World Health Organization’s rabies fact sheet, and the Queensland Health fact sheet on Australian bat lyssavirus.
Who should be vaccinated?
The rabies vaccine is usually only given to people who are at risk of the infection, including people:
- travelling to, and staying for more than 1 month in, places where rabies is present
- whose occupation means that they may come into contact with bats (e.g. bat handlers, vets and wildlife officers)
- people who work with animals in places where rabies is present (e.g. vets and wildlife officers)
- people who work on rabies and bat lyssavirus in a laboratory.
Adults and children who are travelling to places where rabies is present should avoid close contact with wild and domestic animals (including bats).
If you or your child is bitten by an animal seek medical attention immediately.
Vaccination after exposure to rabies
If you have recently been exposed to rabies, or think you may have been (e.g. due to an animal bite), you should be vaccinated. Even if you have been vaccinated in the past you may need additional vaccinations if you have been bitten.
If you are bitten by an animal, your wound will need to be specially cleaned and you may also be given antibodies to the rabies virus.
If you were vaccinated while on travelling overseas, see your doctor when you return as you may need to complete the course of vaccinations to make sure you are fully protected against infection.
If you are vaccinated while overseas, it is important to ask for a certificate from the clinic where you were treated, and to find out important details about your treatment including:
- the telephone and email address of the clinic where you were treated
- the date you were vaccinated
- the batch, source and amount of rabies antibodies used
- the type of vaccine and its batch number
- the number of vials used
- if the vaccine was injected into your muscle or under your skin.
These details will help your doctor to decide about any further treatment you may need.
Your doctor may recommend that you have the rabies vaccination if you are pregnant, considered at risk of infection and you have to travel to countries where rabies is present.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding and you are travelling to countries where rabies is present, vaccination is recommended. There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the rabies vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine except the yellow fever vaccine.
Common side effects of both rabies vaccines that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people include:
- feeling generally unwell (malaise)
- muscle pain (myalgia)
The Rabipur vaccine may cause weakness and rash. The vaccine contains egg protein. If you have an egg allergy, you should tell your doctor.
The Mérieux vaccine may cause a hypersensitivity reaction (serum sickness-like reaction) after the booster dose of the vaccine.
For more information, read our page on the vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.16 Rabies and other lyssaviruses (including Australian bat lyssavirus). In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-16