The rabies vaccine is an injection given to help prevent infection from the virus that causes rabies. The rabies virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected animal. Dogs, bats, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, and foxes are examples of animals that can carry rabies. The rabies vaccine can protect you from being infected with the virus. The vaccine can also prevent you from developing rabies even if you get it after you were bitten by an infected animal.
When is the vaccine given?
Your healthcare provider will tell you how many doses of the vaccine you need. He or she will give you an injection schedule. Plan to get all of the doses on the days they are scheduled, especially the first 2 doses. Do not put off getting the injections or try to schedule them all for the same day. Tell your provider if you think anything may keep you from getting all the doses as scheduled. He or she may be able to help you find ways to stay on schedule. The following is a common dosing schedule:
- Before exposure to the virus , the vaccine is given in 3 doses. The first dose can be given at any time. The second dose is given 7 days after the first. The third dose is given 21 or 28 days after the first. Plan to get all of the doses 3 to 4 weeks before you travel.
- After exposure to the virus , the vaccine is usually given in 2 or 4 doses:
- A person who has not already had the vaccine will usually get 4 doses. The first dose is given as soon after exposure to rabies as possible. A shot called rabies immune globulin is given at the same time as the first dose. This medicine helps your immune system fight the infection. The other doses are given on days 3, 7, and 14 after the exposure. You may also need a dose 28 days after the exposure if you have a weak immune system. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need 4 or 5 doses.
- A person who has already had the vaccine will get 2 doses. The first is given immediately, and the second is given on day 3 after the exposure. Rabies immune globulin is not given.
- Booster doses may be needed over time if you stay at high risk for rabies. You are at increased risk for rabies if:
- Your work involves handling animals that can carry rabies.
- You work in a rabies laboratory.
- You often go into caves where bats live.
- You often travel to a country where rabies is common.
What should I do if I miss a dose or will miss a scheduled dose?
Call your healthcare provider right away. He or she will tell you what to do. The best way to be protected is to stay on the injection schedule given to you. This is especially important if you are getting the vaccine after exposure to the rabies virus. Reschedule any makeup dose or upcoming dose for as close to the original appointment as possible. Remember that you cannot get more than 1 dose on any day.
The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.
- measles virus vaccine/mumps virus vaccine/rubella virus vaccine/varicella virus vaccine
Who should not get the rabies vaccine or should wait to get it?
- Tell your healthcare provider if you had a severe allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine or to another vaccine. If you are getting the vaccine before exposure, do not get another dose. After exposure, you need to get all the doses even if you are at risk for an allergic reaction. Your healthcare provider may need to take extra precautions before you get another dose.
- Tell your provider about all of your allergies. Also tell him or her if you have a disease that affects your immune system (such as HIV/AIDS) or you have cancer. Tell him or her if you are taking medicines that affect your immune system or any cancer treatment drug or radiation. Tell him or her if you are ill. You may need to wait to get the vaccine until you feel better.
What are the risks of the rabies vaccine?
You may have a severe allergic reaction. The area where you got the shot may become red, swollen, or painful. You may develop a headache or muscle aches. You may have nausea or pain in your abdomen. You may develop rabies even after you get the vaccine.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone else call if:
- Your mouth and throat are swollen.
- You are wheezing or have trouble breathing.
- You have chest pain or your heart is beating faster than normal for you.
- You feel like you are going to faint.
When should I seek immediate care?
- Your face is red or swollen.
- You have hives that spread over your body.
- You feel weak or dizzy.
When should I call my doctor?
- You have increased pain, redness, or swelling around the area where the shot was given.
- You have flu-like symptoms.
- You have questions or concerns about the rabies vaccine.