Rabies is a viral infection that affects the brain and nerves. It's spread by infected animals and is generally fatal.

The best way to prevent rabies is to:

  • get the rabies vaccine if you are at risk
  • seek immediate medical advice if you think you have been exposed

If you're in a country where there's a risk of rabies, you could be exposed if an animal:

  • bites or scratches you
  • licks an open wound or broken skin
  • lick your eyes, mouth or nose

Urgent advice: Seek medical attention if:

  • there's any chance you have been exposed to an animal infected with rabies

If you're in the UK you should phone 111 or phone your GP an ask for an urgent appointment.

If you're abroad you should seek medical care immediately. Don't wait until you return to the UK before seeking care.

Rabies is rare in the UK and is only found in some types of bat.

Rabies is more common in parts of:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Central and South America

Globally, dogs are the most common animal that spread rabies to humans. Other mammals such as monkeys, cats, foxes and bats are also considered to be a rabies risk.

Further information on rabies risk in countries you might be travelling to


To reduce your risk of rabies you should:

  • avoid animals that may have rabies
  • get vaccinated if you are travelling to an area with rabies or if you work with animals that may be affected

If you think you've been exposed, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If you are travelling abroad when you are exposed. Don't wait until you return to the UK to seek attention.

Your health care professional may recommend a rabies vaccine if you are travelling to a country where rabies is considered a risk and you:

  • will be working or living in remote or rural areas with no easy access to medical facilities
  • are travelling for over 1 month
  • are at higher risk of contact with animals including bats (if you're going cave exploring, trekking, cycling or running) or because of your job (such as a veterinary surgeon, animal sanctuary volunteer etc)
  • are a child

If you're at risk of rabies through your job, your employer will discuss rabies vaccination with you.

There are other things you can do to lower your risk of rabies.


  • do not touch or get close to any wild or stray animals
  • do not feed any animals, even if they're in zoos or animal sanctuaries
  • do not touch any bats

What to do if you think you've been exposed to rabies

You should always seek medical attention, even if you've been vaccinated.

If you're in the UK you should phone 111 or phone your GP an ask for an urgent appointment.

If you're abroad you should seek medical care immediately.

You should also do the following:

  • wash saliva off of your skin or rinse any broken skin under a running tap for several minutes
  • use an antiseptic solution on the area (such as iodine or alcohol) if possible
  • use a clean bandage or dressing to cover the wounds
  • apply pressure to the wound if there is heavy bleeding

If your eyes, mouth or nose came in contact with animal saliva, you should immediately rinse thoroughly with clean water.


Without treatment, symptoms of rabies can take between 3 and 12 weeks to appear but they can appear after a few days. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

Early symptoms can include:

  • a headache
  • high temperature (fever)
  • weakness or feeling generally unwell
  • pain, numbness or tingling where you've been bitten or scratched

Symptoms will usually get worse and can include:

  • muscle spasms
  • having hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there)
  • confusion
  • aggression
  • not being able to move (paralysis)


There is no specific treatment available for rabies once symptoms develop, except for making the person as comfortable as possible.

PH Stransparent 240 x 80

Source: Public Health Scotland

Last updated:
23 June 2023