Rabies vaccination for travelers

In 2002, more than 10 million people traveled from Germany to rabies risk areas. The risk of the disease is underestimated by many travelers – mostly due to a lack of information. In a survey of 1,200 travelers, more than 95 percent were not   protected against rabies . The preventive vaccination against rabies plays alongside other travel vaccinations such. B.  hepatitis A  or typhus so far only played a minor role. And this despite the fact that rabies, once it has broken out, always leads to death!

About 60,000 people die from rabies worldwide every year

Especially in popular travel countries with constantly increasing numbers of holidaymakers, such as B. lndia, Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania, Mexico, Dominican Republic or Turkey, rabies is widespread. Dogs are the most common carriers of rabies; in South America and Asia, stray dogs cause about 90% of all rabies cases. However, other animals such as cattle, sheep or poultry can also transmit rabies.

The causative agent of rabies – a virus – is excreted with the  saliva  , which in dogs can already contain the virus before the onset of the disease. A majority of the deaths are in Asia. Very few holidaymakers know what risk of infection they are exposed to.

The insidious thing: Once the disease has broken out, there is no longer any medical treatment, it always leads to death. The only life-saving measure is immediate vaccination after contact with an animal suspected of having rabies! Every traveler should therefore find out about the risk of rabies infection and a possible preventive vaccination before their trip.

Suspected rabies – what to do?

Rabies can be prevented by vaccination – even shortly after infection – but is fatal as soon as the typical symptoms of the disease (convulsions, photophobia and aversion to water) appear. The best protection against rabies is to avoid animal bites or contact with saliva. Anyone who has had contact with an animal suspected of having rabies must go to a doctor or, even better, to a hospital immediately – even if they have already been vaccinated!

This means: If an infection is suspected, post-exposure treatment must be started as soon as possible (vaccination  after  contact with an animal suffering from rabies). Vacationers without complete preventive rabies protection then need five vaccinations and possibly an additional rabies immunoglobulin ( immunoglobulins  are proteins that can ward off the rabies pathogen). On the other hand, travelers with a complete basic immunization only need two booster vaccinations.

Know the risk and prevent it with a vaccination

The problem: In many travel countries, the supply of a rabies vaccine is not guaranteed – the purchase of the vaccine is not only difficult, but not possible at all. In Germany, on the other hand, a well-tolerated and effective vaccine is available to travelers. The preventive rabies vaccination that has already been carried out in Germany can, if the worst comes to the worst, provide the necessary time before post-exposure treatment can be initiated. The basic immunization consists of three vaccinations in the upper arm on days 0, 7, 21 or 28. The vaccine is well tolerated and is effective for around 3 years. A booster shot after one year can extend immunity to about 5 years.

Preventive rabies vaccination is a sensible measure; however, vaccination is quite expensive. Therefore, the individual risk situation should always be taken into account (e.g. long-term or active vacationers in areas with a high risk of rabies). Vaccination is recommended in any case if the treatment options after an infection are poor or non-existent.


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