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Rabies Vaccine

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is the rabies vaccine?

The rabies vaccine can prevent rabies. Rabies is a serious illness caused by a virus. The rabies virus is spread to humans through the bite or scratch 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 infection if you are at high risk of exposure. The vaccine can also prevent infection after you are bitten by an infected animal.

When is the vaccine given?

The rabies vaccine is not part of the usual vaccination schedule. Your healthcare provider will give you an injection schedule. You should receive a vaccine if you have a higher risk of exposure to rabies. This might include people who work with animals who may be infected with rabies. You should also receive the vaccine after being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. The following is a common dosing schedule:

  • Before possible exposure to the virus , the vaccine is given in 2 doses. The first dose can be given at any time. The second dose is given 7 days after the first. You may need a booster dose within 3 years of the first 2 doses.
  • After exposure to the virus , the vaccine is usually given in 2 or 4 doses:
    • If you have received the rabies vaccine in the past , you usually only need 2 doses. The first is given immediately and the second is given 3 days later.
    • If you have not received the rabies vaccine , you need 4 doses over 2 weeks. The first dose is given as soon as possible after exposure to rabies. The following doses are given on days 3, 7, and 14. 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.

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.

Who should not get the rabies vaccine or should wait to get it?

Your healthcare provider may have you wait if you have not been exposed to rabies but are at high risk. If you have been exposed, you need to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Tell the provider if:

  • You had an allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine in the past, or to another vaccine.
  • You have any allergies.
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • You take chloroquine or a similar medicine.
  • You are sick or have a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What are the risks of the rabies vaccine?

The injection area may become red, tender, or swollen. You may develop a headache or muscle aches. You may have nausea or pain in your abdomen. You may have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This can be life-threatening.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone 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 injection area.
  • You have a headache, muscle aches, or abdominal pain.
  • You have flu-like symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about the rabies vaccine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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