There is a vaccine available for rabies but it is not on the Australian Immunisation Schedule.

Pre-exposure rabies vaccine is recommended for:

  • people who have contact with bats
  • people who travel to rabies-enzootic regions, based on a risk assessment
  • laboratory workers who work with live lyssaviruses

Post-exposure rabies vaccine and, in some cases, human rabies immunoglobulin are recommended for anyone who has potentially been exposed to rabies virus or other lyssaviruses.

The disease

Rabies is a disease caused by exposure to saliva or nerve tissue of an animal infected with rabies virus or other lyssaviruses. Human exposure can occur through an animal scratch or bite that has broken the skin, or by direct contact of the virus with the mucosal surface of a person, such as nose, eye or mouth. Once symptoms develop, rabies is almost always fatal. Australia is not a rabies-enzootic country. Exposure to classical rabies virus can occur from terrestrial animals and other mammals in rabies-enzootic countries. Bats anywhere in the world are a potential source of lyssaviruses and a potential risk for acquiring rabies, depending on how a person is exposed. Evidence of Australian bat lyssavirus infection has been identified in all 4 species of Australian fruit bats (flying foxes) and in several species of Australian insectivorous bats.

The vaccine

Pre-exposure rabies vaccine is recommended in a 3-dose schedule at days 0, 7 and 21–28.

Post-exposure prophylaxis includes prompt wound management, and administration of rabies vaccine and, in some cases, human rabies immunoglobulin. The appropriate combination of these interventions and the number of vaccine doses depend on a risk assessment that takes into account the:

  • extent of the exposure
  • animal source of the exposure
  • person’s immune status
  • person’s previous vaccination history
Page reviewed November 2018.
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