Rabies is a viral infection caused by lyssaviruses. It is specific to mammals and is most commonly spread through bites from wild animals.
This disease causes brain inflammation. Symptoms include uncontrolled excitement, violent movements, confusion, a fear of water, loss of consciousness, and the inability to move certain body parts. The incubation period typically lasts between 1 and 3 months, but it can be much shorter or much longer than that.
When this disease develops, it is almost always lethal. Taking a rabies vaccine is the only way to prevent this.
So, how long does rabies vaccine last? The protection lasts between 10 and 20 years, but it’s crucial to get re-vaccinated in case you get bitten. Here are some of the most important facts about this vaccination.
Who Should Get the Vaccine
Generally, the rabies vaccine is administered as needed. When a person gets bitten by a wild animal, or suspects that a bite might have occurred, the vaccine needs to be taken immediately.
People who are at a heightened risk of contracting the disease receive the vaccine as a preventive measure. There are several groups of people who should receive the vaccine even if they haven’t been bitten.
- People who spend a lot of times near the virus or have contact with possibly rabid animals. This includes rabies laboratory workers, veterinarians, spelunkers, animal handlers, and rabies biologists.
- People who travel to countries with known rabies issues. Also, travelers likely to come into contact with rabid animals, such as wildlife researchers.
Laboratory workers should periodically get tested for immunity, and booster doses should be administered as needed.
Note that this doesn’t replace post-bite vaccinations. Even if you recently received a preventive vaccine, you need to take it again after getting bitten.
Who Should Not Get the Vaccine
People with compromised health should wait for their immune system to recuperate before getting the preventive vaccine. If the condition is chronic and serious, it might be good to skip the vaccination altogether. You should inform your doctor before getting the vaccine if you have or have had any of the following:
- Severe allergies
- An allergic reaction to past rabies vaccines
People taking medications that might compromise their immune system should not get the rabies vaccine as a preventive measure.
However, if you’ve been bitten by a rabid animal, you will have to get the vaccine right away, regardless of any of the above mentioned conditions. This is the only way to prevent a lethal outcome.
Rabies vaccines are safe for adults and children alike. They are administered only through a deltoid injection. Those administered through a gluteus injection are not considered valid and should be repeated.
How long does rabies vaccine last? The answer to that question varies greatly from person to person. It largely depends on the person’s health status. People with compromised health will typically be protected for a shorter period of time.
The vaccine may provide some degree of protection for 10 to 20 years after the administration. However, everyone has to receive the vaccine after getting bitten by a wild animal.
Types of Rabies Vaccines
Three types of rabies vaccines are currently available in the United States – HDCV, PCECV, and Vero cell vaccines. All are considered equally safe and effective in preventing the onset of the disease.
HDCV (human diploid cell rabies vaccine) made its debut in 1967. Vaccines of this type are inactivated, meaning they contain killed rabies cells. They can’t cause rabies. Thus far, over 1.5 million people have received this vaccine.
The PCECV (purified chicken embryo cell vaccine) and purified Vero cell rabies vaccines are the newer versions. The different types of the vaccine can be used interchangeably.
Receiving the Vaccine before Exposure
The standard schedule is three vaccine doses over the period of 21 to 28 days. However, persons running a high risk of contracting the disease might need an additional booster dose 6 to 24 months after the standard three shots. Some people might even need regular booster doses every 6 to 24 months. Here’s what the standard pre-exposure schedule looks like:
- The first shot is administered as appropriate.
- The second dose is administered 7 days later.
- The third dose is administered 21 to 28 after the first dose.
Receiving the Vaccine after Exposure
In case you’ve been bitten, you will have to get the rabies vaccine without delay. The exact procedure depends on whether you’ve been vaccinated in the past or not.
If you’ve been vaccinated, you will get two shots. You’ll get the first one on the same day and the second three days later. You won’t need to receive human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG).
On the other hand, if you haven’t been vaccinated in the past, you will have to receive one dose of HRIG and four doses of the vaccine.
If you haven’t received a rabies vaccine before and you got bitten, this is the schedule you can expect:
- Day 1: You get the dose of human rabies immunoglobulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine.
- Day 3: You get the second dose of the vaccine.
- Day 7: You get the third dose.
- Day 14: You get the fourth dose.
It is crucial to receive all four doses of the vaccine within this time frame. Skipping the doses or quitting after the second or third one means putting yourself at significant risk.
The rabies vaccine causes mild and harmless side effects in some cases. A tiny percentage of patients might also experience serious or potentially life-threatening side effects.
It is worth noting that different brands of vaccines can cause different side effects. Consult your doctor to learn more.
Mild Side Effects
The first group of mild side effects includes swelling, redness, soreness, or itching at the injection site. These happen in 30 to 74% of cases.
Nausea, muscle aches, abdominal pain, dizziness, and headaches form another group of mild side effects. These occur in 5 to 40% of cases.
Moderate Side Effects
Hives, fever, and joint pains affect around 6% of patients.
Serious Side Effects
Serious side effects are extremely rare. Severe allergic reactions happen once or twice in a million patients.
The Main Points
Getting bitten by a rabid animal is no walk in the park, and vaccination is the only way to prevent the being affected by this deadly disease. People belonging to at-risk groups should get the vaccine regularly as long as they’re exposed.