SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Rabies is a highly fatal disease that affects the central nervous system.
- Rabies is caused by infection with the rabies virus.
- Rabies does not occur in Australia but is found in many parts of the world including Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America and Europe.
- Rabies is spread to people from infected animals, particularly dogs.
- People should avoid contact with wild and domestic animals when travelling to countries where rabies is found. Vaccination may be recommended for people with an increased risk of coming into contact with animals.
- If exposed to a potentially infected animal, wash the wound and seek medical care urgently. Treatment with rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin may be recommended.
Rabies is a serious illness that affects the central nervous system. It is caused by infection with the rabies virus and is almost always fatal.
Rabies does not occur in Australia but occurs in many other parts of the world including Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America and Europe. In Australia, a similar illness caused by infection occurs and is spread to people by bats.
Symptoms of rabies
Symptoms of rabies can occur within days or up to several years after exposure.
Rabies is almost always fatal, with death usually occurring within 1 to 2 weeks of symptoms starting.
How is rabies spread?
Rabies is spread from infected animals to people through bites, scratches, or contact with saliva to broken skin or the eyes, nose or mouth.
Dogs are responsible for most instances of rabies being spread to people. However, all mammals can become infected and spread rabies, including monkeys, cats, bats, raccoons and other members of the canine family such as foxes, coyotes, jackals and wolves. Both wild and domestic animals can spread rabies.
Risk factors for rabies
People who come into contact with wild or domestic mammals in countries where rabies occurs are at increased risk of rabies. Generally, the risk of rabies is highest in countries in Asia, Africa and Central and South America however rabies occurs in many other parts of the world.
People are advised to avoid contact with wild and domestic animals when travelling to countries where rabies occurs. Only appropriately trained and vaccinated people should handle wildlife.
If an animal is suspected of having rabies, report it immediately to the on Tel. (24/7). To contact a local wildlife service, refer to the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA)’s Wildlife Victoria , including the toolkit. Alternatively, call the DEECA Customer Service Centre on Tel. .
Vaccination may be recommended as an additional measure for people travelling to countries where rabies occurs and who have a high risk coming into contact with wild or domestic animals. Three vaccine doses are given over one month as part of preventive vaccination. Travellers should talk to their doctor in advance of planned departure.
For people whose occupation or other activities place them at ongoing risk of animal exposure, periodic blood testing and booster doses of vaccine may be recommended.
What should you do if exposed to a potentially infected animal?
Even if previously vaccinated against rabies, people who have been bitten, scratched or exposed to the saliva of a potentially infected animal should:
- wash the wound with soap and water immediately and thoroughly for at least 15 minutes
- apply an antiseptic with anti-viral action such as iodine (e.g. povidone-iodine, iodine tincture or aqueous iodine solution) or alcohol (ethanol) to all wounds after washing
- seek medical care as soon as possible
The doctor may recommend treatment to reduce the risk of infection. Treatment may involve a combination of multiple doses of rabies vaccine given over a month and an injection of rabies immunoglobulin.
Request written documentation (preferably in English) with details of all treatment received while overseas. On return to Australia, see a doctor at a GP or hospital for reassessment and completion of treatment.
Diagnosis of rabies is through laboratory testing of blood, spinal fluid, skin and nervous tissues.
However, diagnosis can be difficult and may only occur post-mortem.
There is no effective treatment available for rabies. Treatment is supportive.