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Rabies vaccines

The rabies vaccine helps protect you against rabies, Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL) and some other lyssaviruses. Rabies or ABL causes headache, fever, tiredness, mood changes and phobias, weakness, convulsions and coma. Once symptoms develop, infection usually results in death.

Vaccine recommendations

The rabies vaccine is recommended if you are planning on travelling overseas to a country where the risk of catching rabies is high, please refer to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website to see if you are going to a country where there is a high risk of infection.

In Australia, those in contact with bats are at an increased risk of ABL and vaccination is recommended. If you are at a continual risk of exposure, you may also require booster doses in the future, please speak with your doctor.

Bitten or scratched by a potentially infected animal?

Post (after) exposure rabies vaccines are recommended to all individuals who have been potentially exposed to the rabies virus or Australian bat lyssavirus following a bite or scratch from:

  • a bat (in Australia or overseas)
  • an animal in a country where rabies is found.

You or your doctor must report all post exposure to rabies or ABL to SA Health to commence post-exposure treatment as soon as possible.

Treatment will vary depending on previously received rabies vaccine and any treatments that may have been commenced overseas at the time of the exposure. You may also need rabies immunoglobulin injected into the area you were bitten or scratched to give you immediate protection. 

How the vaccine is given

The rabies vaccine is injected into the top of the arm.

If you require rabies vaccine prior to travelling, or if you are involved closely with bats in Australia, a total of three vaccines will be required. 

If you require post exposure treatment

  • two vaccines may be required if you have previously received a primary course (three doses)
  • four vaccines will be required if you have not previously received a primary course (three doses).

Possible side effects

Like any medications, the rabies vaccine can have some minor and short lasting side effects. 

However, once started, post-exposure rabies treatment must be completed, unless directed a medical officer in SA Health's Communicable Disease Control Branch because the disease is almost always fatal.

Common side effects include:

  • redness and swelling where you were immunised
  • low grade fever of 37 to 38 degrees Celsius
  • headache
  • nausea
  • feeling tired and lethargic.

Very rarely, you may experience a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine.

If you are concerned or worried, seek further advice from your doctor, immunisation provider, SA Health’s Immunisation Section or healthdirect Australia.

Any unexpected event following immunisation should be reported to SA Health.

Reducing the side effects

Many of the common side effects can be reduced by:

  • drinking extra fluids
  • resting
  • taking paracetamol as per the instructions on the packet/bottle
  • not over dressing if you are already hot.

Where to get immunised

To receive the vaccine prior to travelling overseas, contact your doctor or travel vaccination centre.

If you are seeking post (after) exposure treatment, urgently visit your nearest:

  • doctor
  • travel vaccination centre
  • emergency department.

Further information

For further information on immunisation, contact SA Health's Immunisation Section.

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