Rabies vaccination for travelers

In 2002, more than 10 million people from Germany traveled to rabies risk areas. The risk of the disease is underestimated by many travelers - mostly due to 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 in addition to other travel vaccinations such. As hepatitis A or typhoid so far only a minor role. And that, although a rabies disease, once it has broken out, always leads to death!

Every year, around 60, 000 people worldwide die of rabies

Especially in popular travel countries with ever-increasing tourist numbers, such. For example, India, Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania, Mexico, the Dominican Republic or even 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 transmit rabies.

The causative agent of rabies - a virus - is eliminated with the saliva, which can be virus-containing in the dog even before the outbreak of the disease. Much of the deaths are in Asia. Very few holidaymakers know which infection risk they are exposed to.

The treacherous: Once the disease has broken out, there is no medical treatment, it always leads to death. The only life-saving measure is the immediate vaccination after a rabies-suspicious animal contact! Every traveler should therefore be aware of the risk of rabies infection and any preventative vaccination before traveling.

Rabies suspected - what to do?

Rabies can be prevented - even shortly after infection - by vaccination, but is fatal, once the typical symptoms (convulsions, photophobia and aversion to water) have occurred. The best protection against rabies is to prevent an animal bite or contact with saliva. Anyone who still had contact with a rabies suspicious animal, must immediately go to a doctor or better equal to a hospital - even if before a vaccine has been made!

This means that in case of suspected infection, a post-exposure treatment must be started as soon as possible (vaccination after contact with a rabies animal). Tourists without complete preventive rabies protection then need five vaccinations and possibly also a rabies immunoglobulin (immunoglobulins are proteins that can ward off the rabies pathogen). By contrast, travelers with a complete primary vaccination need only two refresher vaccinations.

Know the risk and prevent it with a vaccine

The problem: In many travel countries, the supply of a rabies vaccine is not guaranteed - the purchase of the vaccine not only difficult, but not possible at all. In Germany, on the other hand, travelers have a well-tolerated and effective vaccine available. The preventive rabies vaccine already carried out in Germany can provide the necessary time in case of a case until a post-exposure treatment can be initiated. The primary vaccination consists of three upper arm vaccinations on days 0, 7, 21 or 28. The vaccine is well tolerated and works for about 3 years. Immunity can be extended to about 5 years by a one year booster dose.

Preventive rabies vaccination is a reasonable measure; however, the vaccine is quite expensive. Therefore, the individual risk situation should always be taken into account (eg long-term or active vacationers in areas with a high risk of rabies). In any case, the vaccination is recommended if the treatment options are poor or even absent after an infection.

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