A British woman died last week of rabies after being bitten by a dog in India. It was sad news, not least because we routinely offer vaccination for this illness. Once contracted, rabies is often impossible to treat.
The full facts are yet to be released by the family of the victim, who was in her 50s. Some unconfirmed reports say she was staying in Goa. We know animals in India do have the disease (it doesn’t exist in Britain), but this area is considered a low risk. The crucial advice to remember is: don’t pet animals in foreign countries.
It is unclear whether the woman who died was offered vaccination but it is a personal responsibility to find out whether you need a jab before you travel. Here is what you need to know, in order to stay safe.
How do I find out what I need to be vaccinated against?
The best website is the National Travel Health Network and Centre, nathnac.org. This has up-to-date guidance on what to have and where your nearest travel clinic is. This may be at your GP surgery – many offer travel vaccinations on a private basis.
I’ve been to India before and never been offered a rabies injection by my GP. Should
I now ask for one?
The risk hasn’t changed but it’s worth asking whether you need one. Rabies is transmitted from animal bites, commonly dogs. According to the World Health Organisation, there is a risk in 85 countries, encompassing most parts of the African and Asian continents, as well as many parts of South America. If you are having a prolonged stay or will be in remote areas, there is a higher risk.
The vaccination course takes a month to complete before travel and comprises three injections.
If you are going to a low-risk area, you might not be offered the vaccine, but if you want it, you can ask for it. It’s your choice. But bear in mind that you may be taking unnecessary medication.
Is it best to have all vaccinations recommended, just to be on the safe side, even if there is a low risk?
Yes. A travel nurse will weigh up the risks. If you’re going to stay in a business hotel in India for two days then you’re very low risk so you might not be offered vaccinations or be advised against them. But still have the conversation.
There are no effective treatments for rabies. The only option is to try to prevent the rabies virus spreading from the site of the bite to the brain and nervous system.
Are all vaccinations available from my GP?
No. It’s down to the individual GP surgery as to whether they offer them, and they are never free. Many pharmacies also offer vaccinations. Yellow fever vaccination is only offered at designated centres (not always a GP’s).
Can I have all my travel vaccinations together?
Many vaccinations can be given together for convenience. The schedules are normally staggered to keep side effects to a minimum. Anyone travelling should speak to their local travel clinic three months prior to travel.