Amy A Neilson
Cora A Mayer
Rabies is an acute, progressive encephalomyelitis caused by neurotropic lyssaviruses of the Rhabdoviridae family. Untreated, rabies is almost invariably fatal and has the highest fatality rate of all known human viral pathogens.1 Over 50 000 people die of rabies each year, mostly in developing countries. Half of these fatalities occur in India.1,2 The first written description of rabies was found in the writings of the Babylonians, and it was known to exist in 1000 BC in Mesopotamia and Egypt,2 in China in 500 BC, and India in 100 BC. In 1885, Louis Pasteur first prevented human rabies using postexposure vaccination.2
This article forms part of our travel medicine series for 2010, providing a summary of
prevention strategies and vaccination for infections that may be acquired by travellers.
The series aims to provide practical strategies to assist general practitioners in giving
travel advice, as a synthesis of multiple information sources which must otherwise be
Rabies is an acute, almost invariably fatal, progressive encephalomyelitis caused by
neurotropic lyssaviruses of the Rhabdoviridae family.
Rabies prevention, vaccines and postexposure prophylaxis are discussed, and
information regarding vaccines, immunoglobulin products and vaccine regimens that
may be encountered overseas is also given.
Rabies viruses are present in most parts of the world, although it is mainly a problem in
developing countries with more than 50 000 people dying from rabies each year, usually
after a dog bite. All travellers require education regarding rabies prevention if travelling
to an endemic area, and those at high risk of exposure should be offered pre-exposure
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