Rabies exposure numbers on the rise as more Queenslanders travel overseas

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1 June 2023

The number of cases of potential rabies exposure in returned travellers is increasing to pre-pandemic levels, with 116 Queenslanders potentially exposed to the deadly virus so far this year.

Rabies is a virus that can be transmitted to humans through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, or by being exposed to infected animals’ saliva through the eyes, nose, mouth or broken skin.

Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said it is important to seek advice from your doctor or a travel health clinic about the best way to protect yourself before heading overseas, especially if you are travelling to a country where rabies is present.

“For humans, rabies can be deadly - once symptoms develop, it's almost always fatal,” Dr Gerrard said.

“The risk of rabies infection varies depending on the country you are visiting and what activities are planned while abroad.

“The rabies virus is currently found in land mammals, such as dogs or monkeys, in Asia, Africa, North and South America and parts of Europe.

“Thankfully a vaccine is readily available. This will offer you some protection against the virus.

“However it is critically important to immediately seek medical treatment if you are potentially exposed to rabies during your trip, for example if you are bitten or scratched by an animal.

“While the pre-exposure rabies vaccine can be effective in preventing infection, an additional course of post-exposure rabies vaccines may be required in these circumstances.”

Dr Gerrard said there are a number of other vaccinations that may be recommended for travellers, depending on the country they are visiting.

“These may include vaccinations against tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A and B and yellow fever, as well as medications to prevent malaria,” Dr Gerrard said.

“It is important to start planning your pre-travel vaccinations well in advance of your trip. This will give you enough time to get the vaccinations you need and to allow your body to develop immunity.”

People who will be travelling to, or living in, countries where rabies is prevalent can reduce their risk of contracting the virus by:

  • getting vaccinated, at least six weeks before departure. Your doctor may recommend other vaccinations as well, depending on the places you plan to visit
  • avoiding contact with all wild and domestic animals, especially dogs, cats, bats and monkeys, and avoid being scratched, even if vaccinated
  • seeking urgent medical advice if possible rabies exposure has occurred, even if vaccinated.

Queenslanders are encouraged to check the advice for travel destinations on Destinations | Smartraveller.

For more information about pre-travel vaccinations visit the Queensland Government website.


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