December 18, 2015
Human rabies is very rare in Canada. People can get rabies when they are bitten by infected animals. Symptoms may not show up for two to eight weeks. Rabies can cause confusion, breathing problems and seizures. Rabies is almost always fatal. Vaccination is a priority for anyone exposed to animals with proven or suspected rabies.
Persons exposed to an animal bite or scratches may be given post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent rabies infection:
Rabies Immune Globulin (Imogam® Rabies, Hyperrab®)
- Persons who previously received rabies vaccine do not require rabies immune globulin.
- Persons who have never received rabies vaccine and were exposed to an animal bite or scratched need rabies immune globulin on the same day as the first dose of rabies vaccine. Dosage is based on body weight.
Rabies Vaccine (Imovax® Rabies, RabAvert®)
- Individuals who have never received rabies vaccine should get four doses. One dose right away, then on the third, seventh, and fourteenth day.
- Individuals who have received rabies vaccine before only need two doses. One dose right away and on the third day.
- Immune-compromised individuals or persons taking anti-malarial drugs need a fifth dose 28 days after the first dose.
Rabies vaccine is very effective in preventing infection in people who may have been exposed to an animal with rabies.
Rabies immune globulin provides immediate protection for people who have not been immunized against rabies in the past while the body’s immune system responds to the vaccine.
People Who Should Get the Vaccine
Anyone who has been bitten, scratched or licked on an open wound or sore by an animal suspected of having rabies should get this vaccine. This includes pregnant women and infants.
Possible Side Effects
Common side effects may include pain, swelling, redness or itching where the needle was given. A few people may have headaches, loss of appetite, stomach pain, muscle aches or dizziness. Serious side effects are rare.
Talk to a Health Care Provider
Call your doctor right away, if you have the following: hives, vomiting, high fever, convulsions or seizures, or any serious health problem within three weeks after getting the vaccine.
See your health care provider for missed doses as soon as possible to stay on schedule.
Protect yourself, your family and pets from rabies:
- Get your pet dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies. It’s an Ontario law.
- Make sure that pet dogs are supervised. Don’t let them run loose in public spaces, unless in off-leash parks.
- Stay away from all wild animals, especially if they appear tame, injured or sick.
- Call 3-1-1 to report any wild animals showing abnormal or sick behaviour.
- Do not feed wildlife.
- Wildlife-proof your home and yard. Store garbage bins inside a garage/basement until the morning of pick-up. Install lights around the green bin and garbage storage areas.
People at high risk of exposure should speak to their health care provider about getting the rabies vaccine:
- veterinarians, veterinary staff, animal control and wildlife workers
- laboratory workers who handle rabies virus
- travellers to countries where rabies is common
- hunters and trappers in areas with rabies
- people who explore caves