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The rabies vaccine
is an injection given to help prevent 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 animal.
When the vaccine is given:
Your healthcare provider will tell you how many doses of the vaccine you need. You may need booster shots if you are at high risk for rabies. 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 to 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 given in either 2 or 4 doses:
- A person who has not already had the vaccine will usually get 4 doses. The first dose is given immediately. The other doses are given on days 3, 7, and 14 after the exposure. A shot called Rabies Immune Globulin is given at the same time as the first dose. This medicine helps increase your immune system to fight infection.
- A person who has already had the vaccine will usually 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.
Who should get the rabies vaccine:
- Anyone who was bitten by an animal that can carry rabies may need the vaccine
- Anyone at high risk for rabies, such as people who work with or care for animals or in a rabies laboratory
- Anyone who goes into caves where bats live
- Anyone who may have had contact with an infected animal
- Anyone traveling to another country where rabies is common
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 a dose of the rabies vaccine in the past, or to other vaccines. 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 healthcare provider about all of your allergies. Also tell him if you have a disease that affects your immune system (such as HIV/AIDS) or you have cancer. Tell him if you are taking medicines that affect your immune system or any cancer treatment drug or radiation. Tell him if you are ill. You may need to wait to get the vaccine until you feel better.
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 911 for any of the following:
- 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.
Seek care immediately if:
- Your face is red or swollen.
- You have hives that spread over your body.
- You feel weak or dizzy.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have increased pain, redness, or swelling around the area where the shot was given.
- You have questions or concerns about the rabies vaccine.
Apply a warm compress
to the injection area as directed to decrease pain and swelling.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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