Rabies is a viral infection that occurs in animals, most commonly in bats but also in dogs, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and other wild animals. The virus is present in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to other animals or humans by bites or by contact between the infected saliva and broken skin or mucus membranes. By the time an infected human begins to have symptoms, there is no effective treatment, and the disease is almost uniformly fatal.
There are two killed-virus vaccines currently available in the United States for rabies. As of the fall of 2008, there is a manufacturing problem with one of the vaccines, with resultant shortages. The vaccine is recommended for travelers or animal healthcare workers who regularly come in contact with wild animals. Although dogs and cats are routinely vaccinated in the United States against rabies, people are not, mainly because the risk to the average person is so low.
The side effects of the current rabies vaccines are less common and less severe than with past rabies vaccines. Pain, swelling, and itching at the injection site are reported by up to 25 percent of recipients, while 10–20 percent report more general symptoms such as headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, and dizziness. With one of the vaccines, about 6 percent of recipients receiving a series of booster doses (for example, veterinarians) suffer a non-life-threatening allergic reaction with hives, swelling, and joint pains, plus fever, malaise, nausea, and vomiting.
In general, this vaccine should not be given to anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or to any component in the vaccine. However, if a person has been exposed to a rabid animal, there is no medical reason to not give the rabies vaccine. Given the fatal nature of the disease, if the vaccine is required, it is given, and any allergic reaction will be managed as best as possible. The vaccine is safe to give to pregnant women and nursing mothers.
we recommend this vaccine to international travelers who might come in contact with wild animals. That might include researchers who are tagging and releasing wild animals but would not include people on a routine African safari. In the United States, we recommend this vaccine to veterinarians, animal-care workers, and others at high risk of exposure.