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Travel Tip #1 : Rabies – DON’T PANIC! February 6, 2011

Posted by ridingacross in Travel tips.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Instinctively feared by travelers of all kinds, cyclists are perhaps most justified in being concerned by Rabies.

Anyone who has spent time on the road will no doubt have found that they have a strange talent in attracting the unwanted attention of dogs, who seem to dislike bike riders more than any other group on earth.

But if it does come to receiving a bite or scratch, what should a biker in an unknown land do?

Having had the chance to investigate the options available during a bike trip in Turkey, Syria and Israel, and having found little up to date information to guide me when i needed it, here are a few pointers on preserving life and sanity should you be up against it.


  • Prevention is better than a bunch of worry and vaccines

Obvious, sure, but absolutely true – when you are on the road, simply keep away from every animal you see.

It’s not a hard rule to follow when you’re being chased by that huge Anatolian Shepherd beast, but don’t forget that rabies is an equal opportunities employer, and doesn’t care about size.

India, the worlds unfortunate rabies capital of the world, sees many, perhaps most, of its infections occur in children who have simply petted a cat or puppy they found on the street…..reference

Seems to make sense that, unless you really know the family you’re staying with, for example, don’t touch any animals, pets included – it’s just not worth the possibility of exposure…..

Or the worry. “Was it, Wasn’t it, Was it, arrrghh”

Give yourself a break.


  • So it happens…keep your head

Whatever the circumstances, if you have a reasonable idea that you’ve been exposed, don’t panic.

Like all guides will tell you, soon as you can, give the wound site a really good scrub with soapy water, and if you carry iodine for water purification, it won’t hurt to splash a bit of that around either, it might help.

Also, if you carry alcohol as fuel for a pop can stove, it could be an idea to swab with that too, though ethanol is usually specified.

If you can, talk to people nearby; anyone who might know or be the owner if there is one, or at least  might be familiar with the animal and the local rabies situation (people tend to have very accurate knowledge of rabies in their area).

Language is the problem here of course, but a few words go a long way.

The ideal is to be able to get a telephone number for the owner, or perhaps someone living close to where you are exposed – later on, you can have a doctor call them up and ask questions.


  • Get thee to a hospital

Chances are, you aren’t so far from a town or city so, although you really want to do your 70 miles today, change plans,  and head to a medical facility.

If you are further out, it’s time to break that ‘no hitching lifts’ rule and start flagging down cars, trucks or buses untill you find one that will take you and bike.

Again, don’t get crazy – it’s best to start getting the shots same day, but if it takes a few days to get where you’re going, it’s very unlikely to be a problem; the earliest I’ve read of the disease first showing itself is three days, and that is very rare. Most take 10 days to two weeks, some waiting months or even a year before finally entering your nervous system and producing first symptoms.

Many countries with a rabies problem are going to be prepared to receive you in a hospital or local health center, and i can say for sure that Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel are really well set up for your turning up off the street.

India seems to be similarly equipped, at least in the cities, same for many SE Asian countries. You know where are you going, and a quick search around on the web will give you a good idea of how things are set there.

Some good news in all this is that, depending where you are, chances are the shots you need are going to be free. or cheap.

Also, you can probably carry on riding in between shots if you are confident of reaching a city on the dates required (they will write out a schedule for you after the first shot, and it is usually 0, 3, 7, 14, and perhaps a 5th on day 28 (28 days later, right).

Ask the doctors at the first hospital you visit about this, as they will know their system and may very well call ahead for you to check, assuming you are staying in the same country.

If you need to cross a border, it is a little less certain, but still very doable;  when i was in the first 15 days of the shots, i went from Turkey to Syria, through Jordan and finally to Israel, and in every city, the hospitals were able to do the shot on the day.

Should it work out impossible for you to reach a hospital on the exact day, i was told by a doctor that it is not such a big deal for you to take it the following day, but no later.

One point to keep in mind is that they might have different brands of vaccine in different countries along your way, but dont worry too much about that, as you can usually take different brands without a problem.

Abhayrab (Turkey) and Verorab (Syria, Israel) are basically the same, for example.

Again, ask the doctors there about compatibility, and if they don’t know, use the web or call a doctor in your home country for advice. Skype is good for that.


  • Keep still, this won’t hurt a bit

Though you might have some side-effects from all those shots, i know i did….

When you’ve waited 3 days before getting the first shot, and then start feeling ill, hot, achy and have bad guts, it doesn’t do much for your calm, but these are all, and quite reliably, produced by the vaccine.

Now, there are good reasons to be wary of vaccines, just research Thimerosal, but in the case of rabies exposure it’s probably better to take them rather than die.

However, just to balance things out, be aware that these shots have been known to cause longer term effects such as chronic fatigue, lowered immune function, and others. But that goes for any vaccine actually, so its your call.

I chose to take the shots and am still here, though i have had some of those longer effects…..could have been otherwise.

So there it is.

Be sensible and you’ll probably never have any trouble in this direction at all.

If you’re reading this sat in some internet club in a foreign place and want some help, just send me an email and i’ll call or write you back – chances are ill get your message  real soon.


Stay safe,


Good blog post on the subject





1. ridingacross - September 8, 2011

Just wanted to add a little extra info on the subject.

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal that is owned by someone, and you can get a phone number for them, you can do this (if you want):

Go get the first shot if you are satisfied that there is a chance of exposure.
Then, keep in contact with the owner every few days to know how the animal is behaving.

If, after 10 – 14 days the animal is still alive, you can stop the vaccination program…if you want to…because animals at the stage of being able to spread the virus when they bite you will definitely be dead within that time.

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