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Rabies Vaccine

What is rabies?

Rabies is a serious disease caused by a virus carried in the saliva of infected domestic and wild mammals, and is usually spread through a bite. There may not be any symptoms for weeks, or even year after the bite but rabies can cause pain, fatigue, headache, fever, and irritability. If untreated, symptoms can progress to confusion, hallucinations, insomnia, seizures, and paralysis. Rabies is 100 percent fatal in humans, if left untreated.

Although rabies cases are rare in the United States, they are still common in other parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

What is the rabies vaccine?

The rabies vaccine is made from inactivated rabies virus and can protect those at increased risk of rabies exposure, but it can also prevent the disease if it is given to a person after exposure to the virus.

For people traveling to rabies-prevalent areas, the three-dose vaccine series must be completed before travel.

Who should get the rabies vaccine?

  • International travelers, especially children, who are likely to come in contact with rabies virus or with rabid animal
  • Travelers who plan to spend time outdoors
  • Veterinarians and animal control or wildlife workers

Who should not get the rabies vaccine?

  • Those with moderate or severe illness (for example, a severe cold, flu or infection of the sinuses or lungs) should not receive the vaccine until symptoms of the illness improve.
  • Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should ask their doctor if they should receive the vaccine.
  • Those who previously had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not be vaccinated.
  • Those with a weakened immune system should talk with a doctor before receiving the vaccine. This may apply to several diseases and conditions, including:
    • HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
    • Those receiving long-term steroid treatment (such as prednisone)
    • Cancer or cancer treatment

What are the side effects of the rabies vaccine?

Mild-to-moderate problems:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, and dizziness
  • Hives, pain in the joints, and fever

Severe problems (Rare):

  • Deafness
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Serious allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Wheezing
    • Hives
    • Pale skin
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Dizziness

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce fever.

It is extremlely rare for these vaccines to cause serious harm or death. If the person getting the vaccine has a serious reaction, call the doctor or seek immediate medical attention.

The rabies vaccine is available at Walgreens Pharmacy. Ages vary by state.

Walk in or schedule an appointment at the location nearest you.

If you believe you have a medical emergency,  please call 911.

Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit the CDC website, at cdc.gov/vaccines, for more vaccine information.

References

Atkinson W, Hamborsky J, Stanton, A, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 12th ed., second printing. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2012.

Vaccine Information Statement: Rabies Vaccine (What You Need to Know). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 10/6/2009. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/rabies.pdf. Accessed July 2014.

This publication should be used for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this publication.