What's it like: To get a rabies shot

Rabies is a severe disease caused by the rabies virus that spreads through the body via the central nervous system. If a person develops rabies, it's almost always fatal.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: July 14, 2013
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Why get a rabies shot?

Rabies is mainly a disease found among animals, but humans can get rabies if an infected animal bites them.

Rabies is a severe disease caused by the rabies virus that spreads through the body via the central nervous system. Ultimately, that's the part of the body — the brain and spinal cord — that's attacked by the virus. If a person develops rabies, it's almost always fatal.

The rabies vaccine generally is given to people who have come into contact with an affected animal or people who are at a high risk of getting infected with rabies, such as a veterinarian or an animal handler.

Human rabies is rare in the United States. Only 55 cases have been diagnosed since 1990. However, thousands of people are treated each year for possible exposure to rabies after animal bites.

What happens when you get a rabies shot?

Several years ago, treatment for rabies included 21 injections into a person's stomach. It was extremely painful and involved a long needle. However, since the early 1980s, there's a much different rabies vaccine to treat humans for rabies exposure.

Generally, to treat rabies, you're given a dose of human rabies immune globulin, which provides immediate antibodies until your body can respond to the vaccine and produce its own antibodies.

You're also given four doses of rabies vaccine. Generally, you're given a shot on the day of the exposure, and then again on days three, seven and 14. The vaccine is given in a muscle, usually in the upper arm. This set of vaccinations has proved to be highly effective at preventing rabies if given as soon as possible after an exposure.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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