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Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that affects the body's central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The rabies virus most often spreads through the bite of an animal. Animals that may spread rabies include dogs, cats, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats.



  • Vaccine: A rabies vaccine helps your body make antibodies to fight the virus and help prevent rabies. The vaccine may be given before you have been exposed to rabies (preexposure). It also can be given after you have been exposed to rabies (postexposure).

    • If you have been exposed to the rabies virus and you have not been given the vaccine in the past, you will be given 4 different doses. These will be given on 4 different days within a 1-month period. You will also be given a shot of rabies immune globulin.

    • If you have been given the rabies vaccine in the past and have now been exposed to the virus, you will receive 2 doses, given 3 days apart.

    • If you are at risk of being exposed to rabies, you will be given 3 doses on different days. These are given within a 1-month period.

  • Rabies immune globulin: If you have been exposed to rabies, you may be given rabies immune globulin to attack the virus. This medicine will also help your immune system fight the infection. If you have been given the rabies vaccine in the past, you will not be given this medicine.

  • Td vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent tetanus and diphtheria. The Td booster may be given to adolescents and adults every 10 years or for certain wounds and injuries.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Prevent rabies:

  • Get vaccinated against rabies to prevent infection. This may be needed if your work puts you at risk of getting rabies. You may also get shots if you plan to travel to places where the chance of getting rabies is high. If you are going to travel, get the vaccine 3 to 4 weeks before you leave. You may need to get a booster shot. Ask for more information on rabies shots.

  • Avoid contact with wild animals. Do not approach any tame or wild animal that you have not seen before. Do not try to take them home with you. Cover windows and other openings in your home with screens so wild animals cannot get inside.

  • Get medical care if you get bitten by an animal, even if the wound is very small.

  • Get your pet vaccinated against rabies.

What to do if an animal bites you:

  • Clean the bite wound. Clean the bite wound well with soap and water or a povidone-iodine solution mixed with water. Your risk of infection and rabies decreases if your wound is cleaned soon after you are bitten.

  • Cover the wound with a clean bandage.

  • Go to the emergency department.

Contact your primary healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You may or have been exposed to rabies.

  • You have been bitten by an animal.

  • Your bite wound gets more red, swollen, painful, or drains pus.

  • After possible exposure to rabies, you have trouble swallowing, slurred speech, double vision, or you see things that are not really there. You may also begin twitching, have muscle cramps, or have a seizure.

  • After possible exposure to rabies, you feel weak, tired, dizzy, confused, restless, or anxious.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Rabies (Discharge Care)