The rabies vaccine

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

Humans, when bit by animals, most notably dogs, get rabies. At first, there may not be any symptoms, but weeks or even years after a bite, rabies can cause symptoms like pain, fatigue, headaches, fever, and irritability. These are followed by seizures, hallucinations, and paralysis. Rabies is almost always fatal.

The rabies vaccine is given as a preventive measure for people working in close association with wild animals. In case a person has been infected with the virus, the vaccine can be used to control the disease. As the vaccine is made from dead cells, it cannot cause rabies.

Preventive Vaccination – When There Is No Exposure

  • People at high risk of exposure to rabies such as veterinarian doctors, animal handlers, rabies laboratory workers should be offered the vaccine.
  • The vaccine should also be considered for:
    1. People whose activities bring them into frequent contact with rabies virus or with possibly rabid animals.
    2. International travelers who are likely to come in contact with animals in parts of the world where rabies is common.
  • The pre-exposure schedule for rabies vaccination is 3 doses, given at the following times:
    Dose 1: As appropriate.
    Dose 2: 7 days after dose 1.
    Dose 3: 21 days or 28 days after dose 1.
  • For laboratory workers and others who may be repeatedly exposed to rabies virus, periodic testing for immunity is recommended and booster doses should be given as needed. Testing or booster doses are not recommended for travelers.

Vaccination after an Exposure:

  • Anyone who has been bitten by an animal or who otherwise may have been exposed to rabies should see his doctor immediately. The doctor will determine if he needs to be vaccinated.
  • A person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated against rabies should get 4 doses of rabies vaccine - one dose right away and additional doses on the 3rd, 7th, and 14th days. They should also get another shot called Rabies Immune Globulin at the same time as the first dose.
  • A person who has been previously vaccinated should get 2 doses of rabies vaccine - one right away and another on the 3rd day. Rabies Immune Globulin is not needed.

If you have suffered from serious allergic reactions to other vaccines or suffer from immune-compromising illnesses like HIV/AIDS, then talk to your doctor before going for a rabies vaccine. If you have been exposed to the rabies virus though, go for the vaccine immediately regardless of any other illness that you may have.