Rabies Vaccine

What You Need to Know


  • Rabies is a serious disease. It is caused by a virus.

  • Rabies is mainly a disease of animals. Humans get rabies when they are bitten by infected animals.

  • At first there might not be any symptoms. Weeks, or even years after a bite, rabies can cause pain, fatigue, headaches, fever, and irritability. These are followed by seizures, hallucinations, and paralysis. Rabies is almost always fatal.

  • Wild animals, especially bats, are common source of human rabies infection. Skunks, raccoons, dogs, cats, coyotes, foxes and other mammals can also transmit the disease.

  • Human rabies is rare in the United States. There have been only 55 cases diagnosed since 1990. However, between 16,000 and 39,000 people are vaccinated each year as a precaution after animal bites. Also, rabies is far more common in other parts of the world, with about 40,000 to 70,000 rabies-related deaths worldwide each year. Bites from unvaccinated dogs cause most of these cases.

Rabies vaccine can prevent rabies.


  • Rabies vaccine is given to people at high risk of rabies to protect them if they are exposed. It can also prevent the disease if it is given to a person after they have been exposed.

  • Rabies vaccine is made from killed rabies virus. It cannot cause rabies.


Preventive Vaccination (No Exposure)

  • People at high risk of exposure to rabies, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, rabies laboratory workers, spelunkers, and rabies biologics production workers should be offered rabies vaccine.

  • The vaccine should also be considered for:

  • People whose activities bring them into frequent contact with rabies virus or with possibly rabid animals.

  • International travelers who are likely to come in contact with animals in parts of the world where rabies is common.

  • The pre-exposure schedule for rabies vaccination is 3 doses, given at the following times:

  • Dose 1: As appropriate.

  • Dose 2: 7 days after Dose 1.

  • Dose 3: 21 days or 28 days after Dose 1.

  • For laboratory workers and others who may be repeatedly exposed to rabies virus, periodic testing for immunity is recommended. Booster doses should be given as needed. (Testing or booster doses are not recommended for travelers). Ask your caregiver for details.

Vaccination After an Exposure

Anyone who has been bitten by an animal, or who otherwise may have been exposed to rabies, should see a caregiver immediately. The caregiver will determine if he or she needs to be vaccinated.

  • A person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated against rabies should get 4 doses of rabies vaccine.One dose right away and additional doses on the 3rd, 7th, and 14th days. They should also get another shot called RabiesImmuneGlobulin at the same time as the first dose.

  • A person who has been previously vaccinated should get 2 doses of rabies vaccine. One right away and another on the 3rd day. Rabies Immune Globulin is not needed.


Talk with a caregiver before getting rabies vaccine if you:

  • Ever had a serious (life-threatening) allergic reaction to a previous dose of rabies vaccine or to any component of the vaccine.

  • Have any severe allergies.

  • Have a weakened immune system because of:

  • HIV, AIDS, or another disease that affects the immune system.

  • Treatment with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids.

  • Cancer or cancer treatment with radiation or drugs.

If you have a minor illnesses, such as a cold, you can be vaccinated. If you are moderately or severely ill, wait until you recover before getting a routine (non-exposure) dose of rabies vaccine.

If you have been exposed to rabies virus, you should get the vaccine regardless of any other illnesses you may have.


A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. Serious problems from rabies vaccine are very rare.

Mild problems:

  • Soreness, redness, swelling, or itching where the shot was given (30 % to 74 %).

  • Headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, or dizziness (5% to 40 %).

Moderate problems:

  • Hives, pain in the joints, or fever (about 6 % of booster doses).

  • Other nervous system disorders, such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), have been reported after rabies vaccine. This happens so rarely that it is not known whether they are related to the vaccine.

Note: Several brands of rabies vaccine are available in the United States, and reactions may vary between brands. Your caregiver can give you more information about a particular brand.


What should I look for?

Any unusual condition, such as a severe allergic reaction or a high fever. If a severe allergic reaction occurred, it would be within a few minutes to an hour after the shot. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, weakness, hoarseness or wheezing, a fast heartbeat, hives, dizziness, paleness, or swelling of the throat.

What should I do?

  • Call your caregiver or get the person to a caregiver right away.

  • Tell the caregiver what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.

  • Ask the caregiver, nurse, or health department to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. Or, you can file this report through the VAERS website at www.vaers.hhs.gov or by calling 1-800-822-7967.

VAERS does not provide medical advice.


  • Ask your caregiver or other health care provider. He or she can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.

  • Call your local or state health department.

  • Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Visit the CDC rabies website at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies

CDC Rabies Vaccine VIS (10/6/09)