The virus attacks the central nervous system causing, progressive damage to the brain and spinal cord. Once symptoms are present, rabies is almost always fatal.
Human rabies cases are often unreported so it is difficult to provide reliable figures on the incidence worldwide. The disease is estimated to cause 59,000 human deaths annually. Rabies is rare in travellers with only 25 human deaths in the UK from imported rabies since 1946.
Although rabies cases are rare in travellers, animal bites and scratches are common. It is important that travellers visiting areas where rabies occurs are aware of the risk and know what to do if they are bitten or scratched. The disease is preventable if the correct post-exposure treatment (PET) is provided quickly. PET can be expensive and difficult to obtain in some areas.
Contact with wild or domestic animals during travel should be avoided. Travellers should also be advised:
The following advice can be given regarding first aid following a possible rabies exposure: