Rabies is a very serious viral infection that targets the brain and nervous system.

Rabies is contracted when you are bitten by an infected animal and haven't been vaccinated.





Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms develop, but can be prevented if treatment is given promptly after exposure - Act quickley if you are concerned that you have been exposed. 

When to seek medical help

Seek immediate medical advice if you're worried that you or your child may have been bitten, scratched or licked by an animal that you are worried about, or if you're bitten or scratched by a bat in any country.

Although rabies is unlikely, you should also seek immediate medical help if you're bitten or scratched by a pet that has an uncertain vaccination history.

If you've been bitten or scratched, you should:

  • wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water under a running tap for 15 minutes
  • apply antiseptic or alcohol to clean the wound
  • leave the wound open
  • go to the nearest hospital or medical centre and explain that you've been bitten

How rabies spreads

Rabies can be spread to humans from infected animals through a bite, scratch or lick to broken skin, the mouth or the eye. You may also be at risk if an animal spits in your face. In very rare cases, rabies can be spread during an organ transplant.

Once it enters the body, the rabies virus multiplies before spreading into nerve endings. It then travels to the spinal cord and brain (the central nervous system). Once the virus is in the central nervous system, it multiplies rapidly and spreads to the salivary glands, lungs, kidneys and other organs.

Animals that carry rabies

All mammals, including monkeys, can carry the rabies virus, but the following species are more commonly infected:

  • dogs
  • bats
  • raccoons
  • foxes
  • jackals
  • cats
  • mongooses

What are the symptoms?

It can take a while for symptoms to develop, but when they do the condition is almost always fatal.

Some of the symptoms in humans can include:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • an irrational fear of water (hydrophobia)
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • fear of drafts of air (aerophobia)
  • confusion or aggressive behaviour

Treating rabies

If you have been exposed (bitten, scratched or licked) by an animal that might have rabies, you'll need to seek medical advice to determine whether you need to have a course of treatment to prevent rabies. This is known as post-exposure treatment.

It's important this is done before you develop symptoms. Once symptoms develop, the infection cannot be treated and it's almost always fatal.