A vaccine is available to help protect people at risk of being exposed to rabies.
But even if you have been vaccinated, you should still get urgent medical help if you're bitten or scratched by an animal that may have had rabies.
Who should have the rabies vaccine
People who are travelling
You should consider being vaccinated against rabies if you're travelling to an area of the world where rabies is common and:
- you plan to stay for a month or more, or there's unlikely to be quick access to appropriate medical care
- you plan to do activities that could put you at increased risk of exposure to animals with rabies, such as running or cycling
It takes up to 4 weeks to complete the vaccine course, so you need to start it at least 1 month before you plan to leave.
Pregnant women are advised to have the rabies vaccine if the risk of exposure to rabies is thought to be high and there's limited access to medical care.
Use the TravelHealthPro website to find out if there's a risk of rabies in the country you're travelling to.
People at risk through their work
Vaccination is also recommended for anyone at risk of being exposed to rabies through their job (paid or voluntary), such as:
- people who regularly handle bats
- people who handle imported animals, such as workers at animal quarantine centres
- laboratory workers who handle rabies samples
If you think this applies to you, speak to your employer or occupational health provider. If you regularly handle bats in a voluntary role, speak to a GP about the rabies vaccine.
Where to get the rabies vaccine
You may be able to get a rabies vaccination at your GP surgery, but you may need to pay for it.
Alternatively, you can pay for the vaccine at a private travel vaccination clinic.
Will I have to pay for the rabies vaccine?
You'll usually have to pay for the rabies vaccine if you need it for protection while travelling.
The vaccine course involves 3 doses. Each dose usually costs around £40 to £60, with a full course typically costing around £120 to £180.
If you need the vaccine because there's a risk you could be exposed to rabies through your job, your employer should be able to provide it for you free of charge. Ask your employer or occupational health provider about this.
If you regularly handle bats in a voluntary role, you should speak to a GP to see if you are eligible for a free vaccine.
How the rabies vaccine is given
The rabies vaccine is given as injections into your upper arm.
You'll need 3 doses of the vaccine, usually over a period of 28 days.
If you're planning to travel to an area where rabies is found, you should complete the full course of 3 doses before you leave.
If you've been vaccinated against rabies before but you continue to be at risk (for example, through your job), you may need further "booster" doses to ensure you stay protected.
Speak to your employer or occupational health provider about the booster doses you might need.
For travellers, 1 booster dose may be considered if you were vaccinated more than a year ago and you're travelling to a high-risk area again.
Side effects of the rabies vaccine
After having the rabies vaccine, some people have temporary soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site for 24 to 48 hours.
In rare cases, some people also experience:
- a mild high temperature (fever)
- a headache
- muscle aches
- a rash
The vaccines used in the UK contain an inactive (dead) form of the rabies virus, so you cannot catch rabies by being vaccinated.