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Rabies: how to stay safe

rabies dog_08_06_12Last week a British grandmother died here in the UK from rabies, a disease that causes inflammation of the brain, after being bitten by a puppy while holidaying in India. Before her death, there had been just four reported cases of humans suffering from rabies in Britain since 2000, and all these cases had been infected abroad.

But while its been over 100 years since a person picked up rabies from an animal in the UK, more than 50,000 people in 150 countries still die from the disease every year, mainly in developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa – often cheap popular tourist destinations.

The main rabies risk to tourists is stray dogs, who can transfer the disease through biting or licking (if their saliva gets through broken skin), but any warm blooded animal can transfer the disease. If you have been bitten, it is crucial to receive a vaccine shot as soon as possible, as the sooner you receive this, the better your chances of recovery. Once you start to show signs, including flu-like symptoms, severe headache, vomiting, slight paralysis, delirium and a fear of water, not much can be done, and the mortality rate is 99%.

Speaking to Metro, Dr Behrens, senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said ‘The first 24 hours are critical to try and stop the infection from developing.’

‘You really have to get the immunoglobulin (vaccine) into the wound within 24 hours to make sure the virus is killed before it spreads.

‘The problem is, you could be in most countries where rabies is prevalent and you won’t find this drug. If you go to a rural clinic in say India or Sudan, you won’t find it. You may not even find it in the capital of those countries because it is restricted.’

The good news is that vaccinations against the disease are available for around £160 here in the UK, so if you are travelling to a foreign country where rabies is a risk, or are going to be in a remote area away from medical help, be sure you stump up for all the relevant shots.

Be aware that three doses of the vaccine are usually given. The first injection, a second injection seven days later and a third injection 21-28 days after the first injection, so be sure to plan ahead.

And while the shots may dent your spending money, it’s the biggest bargain you’ll ever buy, considering you are paying for your life. 

Picture credit: Shutterstock

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