Should I Worry About Rabies When I Travel Outside the U.S.?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

Do I need to be concerned about rabies when I travel outside the United States?

Doctor's response

Yes. Rabies and rabies-like viruses can occur in animals anywhere in the world. In most countries, the risk of rabies in an encounter with an animal and the precautions necessary to prevent rabies are the same as they are in the United States.

However, the developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have additional problems in that dog rabies is common there and preventive treatment for human rabies may be difficult to obtain. The importance of rabid dogs in these countries, where tens of thousands of people die of the disease each year, cannot be overstated.

Unlike programs in developed countries, programs for dog rabies vaccination have not always been successful in developing countries. Rates of postexposure prophylaxis in some developing countries are about 10 times higher than in the United States, and rates of human rabies are sometimes 100 times higher.

When traveling, it is always prudent (if not always practical) to avoid approaching any wild or domestic animal. Before traveling abroad, consult a health care provider, travel clinic, or health department about your risk of exposure to rabies and how to handle an exposure should it arise.

This answer is based upon information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018
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