How is rabies treated?

Rabies is both prevented and treated with a rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine is made from killed rabies virus. The vaccine cannot cause rabies. Current vaccines are relatively painless and given in the arm similar to other common vaccines.

A special immune globulin can also be helpful in some cases. When it is useful; starting early is important. A medical professional can help you determine if rabies immune globulin is appropriate for your case.

To treat rabies:

If you have been bitten by an animal or exposed to rabies, call your doctor and go to a nearby emergency room immediately. Once there, the doctor will clean the wound thoroughly and give a tetanus shot if you are not up-to-date with your tetanus immunization.

The decision to treat rabies right away by beginning a series of rabies vaccine shots will be based on a number of factors. These include:

  • The circumstances of the bite (whether the bite provoked or unprovoked).
  • The type of animal (wild or domestic; species of animal).
  • The animal's vaccination history (whether or not it is vaccinated).
  • Any recommendations from local health authorities regarding the circumstance surrounding the bite.

How dangerous is rabies if it is not treated?

Rabies is almost always fatal if it is left untreated. In fact, once someone with rabies starts experiencing symptoms, they usually do not survive. This is why it is very important to seek medical attention right away following an animal bite, especially if the bite is from a wild animal.

Is the rabies vaccine safe?

The risk of the vaccine causing serious harm is very small. Current vaccines used in the United States cause fewer bad reactions than previous rabies vaccines. Typical mild problems include soreness, redness, swelling, or itching at the sit of the shot. Other mild problems can include headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, and dizziness.

More moderate to severe vaccine side effects include hives, joint pain, and fever. Signs of a severe allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, rapid heartbeat, or dizziness. Waiting in the doctor’s office or emergency area for 30 minutes after a vaccine will usually provide time to see if a severe allergic reaction will occur. If you experience any moderate to severe side effects, call your doctor right away.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/04/2019.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rabies. www.cdc.gov/rabies. Accessed 6/4/2019.
  • World Health Organization. Rabies. www.who.int. Accessed 6/4/2019.

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