Preventing Rabies Infection: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that can affect the brain and nervous system. You can get rabies when you are exposed to an animal that has rabies. This can happen through a bite, scratch, or other contact.

Your doctor can use two medicines to help your body fight the virus before it causes an infection. One is rabies immunoglobulin. It works by giving your body a type of protein called an antibody to stop the rabies virus. The other medicine is the rabies vaccine. It helps your body produce its own protection against the rabies virus. When you get these shots before serious symptoms appear, you should not get infected with rabies.

Your doctor will give you a shot schedule. Make sure that you do not miss any doses. You need to get all the doses for the rabies vaccine to work.

If you are exposed and have not been vaccinated against rabies, you should get 4 doses of rabies vaccine.

  • Get 1 dose right away. You should also get a rabies immunoglobulin shot when you get the first dose.
  • Get more doses on the 3rd, 7th, and 14th days.

If you're exposed and have been vaccinated before, you should get 2 doses of rabies vaccine.

  • Get 1 dose right away. In this case, you do not need rabies immunoglobulin.
  • Get another on the 3rd day.

You might also get a shot to prevent rabies if you handle animals often. Or you may get one if you plan to travel to places where rabies is a risk.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not drive or use machines if the rabies vaccine makes you dizzy.
  • Both types of rabies shots may cause fever. And both may cause pain or stiffness where you got the shot. If your doctor recommends it, take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), as needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

To prevent contact with rabies

  • Make sure your dog, cat, or ferret gets the rabies vaccine.
  • Avoid all contact with bats.
  • Never touch or try to pet or catch wild animals. This includes raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.
  • Secure trash and other items that attract animals.
  • Secure open areas of your home. Close off pet doors, chimneys, unscreened windows, or any place that wild or stray animals could get in.
  • Never handle a dead or wounded animal.

To take care of an animal bite

  • Wash any animal bite or area of exposure right away. Use soap and water.
  • Call your doctor or nurse call line to find out how to care for your wound.
  • If the animal is a dog, cat, or pet ferret, try to find and contact the owner. If you can't find the owner, call the local animal control to safely catch the animal.
  • If the animal is wild, do not try to catch or kill it. Find out what type of animal it is. Note whether it is acting normal. Report it to the local animal control.
  • Contact the local or state health unit to report a bite or a severe scratch from an animal.
  • Ask your doctor if you need a tetanus shot.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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