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Rabies Vaccine

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is an infection caused by a virus. This virus is almost always fatal unless it is treated before symptoms appear. It affects the central nervous system.

People usually get rabies through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Wild animals in the US that commonly carry the virus include bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Dogs, cats, and other domestic animals can also carry the disease. The rabies virus is found in the saliva, brain, or nervous tissue of infected animals. In the US, rabies in humans is rare. It is more common in other countries.

Rabies symptoms include:

Symptoms may not appear for weeks or months after a bite.

If an animal has bitten you, wash the wound with soap and water right away. Call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

What Is the Rabies Vaccine?

The vaccine is made from killed rabies virus. It is given by injection.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

There are 2 reasons someone should get the rabies vaccines:

Preventive Vaccination

This is for people at high risk of exposure to rabies, such as:

  • Veterinarians and animal handlers
  • Rabies laboratory workers
  • People who explore caves
  • Travelers who may come in contact with rabid animals

The preventive vaccine is given in 3 doses. The second dose is given 7 days after the first dose. The third dose is given 21 or 28 days after the first dose. People who may be exposed to the virus a lot should be tested for immunity on a periodic basis. Booster doses may be needed.

Vaccination After Exposure

This vaccination is given to anyone who has been bitten by an animal or was exposed to rabies. This treatment includes 4 doses of rabies vaccine. One dose is given right away. Three more doses are given on the third, seventh, and fourteenth days. (Persons who are immunosuppressed should receive 5 doses of vaccine). A shot of rabies-specific immune globulin (RIG) should be given along with the first dose. Two doses are given for people who have been vaccinated before. One dose is given right away and another is given on the third day. RIG is considered unnecessary for people who previously received a complete vaccination series with a cell-culture vaccine or who previously had a documented adequate rabies virus-neutralizing antibody titer following vaccination with noncell-culture vaccine.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Rabies Vaccine?

Like any vaccine, the rabies vaccine can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of serious harm or death is extremely small.

The most commonly reported problems include:

Rarely, an illness similar to Guillain-Barre syndrome and other nervous system disorders have been reported with the vaccine.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Talk with your doctor before being vaccinated if you:

What Other Ways Can Rabies Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Here are some ways to prevent rabies:

Rabies symptoms in animals may include:

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

In the event of an outbreak, authorities will identify and control the source of the outbreak. They will increase how often they monitor wild and domestic animals. Steps will be taken to increase animal rabies vaccination rates. Safety education will be provided to the public.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization


Rabies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/rabies. Updated September 28, 2017. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Rabies. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114081/Rabies. Updated January 13, 2017. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Rabies immune globulin. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T356378/Rabies-Immune-Globulin. Updated November 6, 2017. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Rabies vaccine. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T356379/Rabies-Vaccine. Updated August 7, 2017. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Rabies VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/rabies.html. Updated June 18, 2013. Accessed December 6, 2017.

3/26/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T356378/Rabies-Immune-Globulin: Rupprecht CE, Briggs D, Brown CM, et al. Use of a reduced (4-dose) vaccine schedule for postexposure prophylaxis to prevent human rabies. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010;59(RR-2):1-9.

Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 11/11/2015