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Rabies is caused by infection with the rabies virus, or other viruses in the lyssavirus family including Australian bat lyssavirus.  Rabies is usually acquired from a bite or scratch from an infected animal.  It can also be contracted from contact with broken skin, or through organ transplantation.

Animals in Australia do not have rabies. Overseas, rabies occurs in dogs, cats, monkeys and foxes. Lyssavirus does occur in Australian bats. It can be transmitted from bats to humans via a bite or scratch from an infected bat. You may be at risk if you have contact with some wild or domestic mammals such as dogs, cats, and monkeys in a country outside of Australia where there is an increased risk of rabies.

You should ensure you do not pat or play with animals when you are overseas in an area where rabies is known to occur. Avoid contact with stray animals including cats and dogs.

Speak to your doctor if you are travelling to a country where there is a rabies virus risk. You may benefit from vaccination.

Even if you have had the rabies vaccine, if you are bitten or scratched by a bat or overseas mammal including a cat or dog, you should:

  • immediately wash the wound thoroughly with water and soap if available for 15 minutes
  • apply an antiseptic with anti-virus action such as povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution or alcohol (ethanol) after washing
  • seek medical attention as soon as possible

Rabies vaccine

Vaccination is your best protection against rabies. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

When to get vaccinated? Before you go overseas to countries where there is rabies. You should consult your doctor or visit a travel health clinic 6 to 12 weeks before you leave Australia.
How many doses are required? 3 doses over 1 month.
How is it administered? Injection
Is it free?

No, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects The vaccine is very safe. Side effects may include a sore arm, swelling where the injection went in, headache or nausea.

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Last reviewed: April 2019

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