We’ve been on the road well over 5 years now and finally, in 2018, we decided to get our rabies vaccinations. When we first set out for South East Asia with a 6 year old and 8 year old, we decided that rabies jabs for travel weren’t necessary, so why, after 50 or so countries including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, all of South East Asia and the higher rabies risk areas of Europe, have we finally decided to vaccinate our now teen and tween and our adult selves? It comes down to mommy risk assessment and peace of mind.
I need to say here that this post does not contain medical advice, it just explains our thinking process and experiences of travelling without rabies vaccinations for the last 5 years. Rabies is ( was, thought to be until recently, 1 known girl survived after a new treatment protocol and there are now a few more cases) the only 100% fatal human disease, it’s not something to be taken lightly nor to mess about with.
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Rabies Jabs, Do You Need Them?
We initially decided no. My husband and I had travelled extensively before this trip, we’d done a round the world gap year and done a lot of trekking.
I had holidayed in Asian hot spots such as Sri Lanka and Thailand where interaction with monkeys was positively encouraged. We’d bought bunches of bananas to feed to the little fleabags and let them get as close as possible to get a good shot.
We’d seen plenty of street dogs and knew that they were rarely a problem and knew that post bite rabies shots would never be far away, so figured it was a no brainer.
Why get rabies shots when they don’t make you immune anyway? You still need post-bite treatment for rabies if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten. It’s just that the shots give you more time and the post bite therapy isn’t quite the same in terms of duration or type of vaccine. We were happy to not vaccinate our kids and consider rabies jabs unnecessary. The global shortage of post rabies vaccine ( the immunoglobulin, it’s hard to get) was a concern, but we figured we could always hop on a plane to Bangkok in a very worst case scenario.
Previous Posts About Vaccinations and Travel Health
The Travel Vaccination Drama
In which we are confronted by an Australian shopping list of travel vaccinations and decided to get them in Asia to save money. Read here….
Getting Travel Vaccinations in Kuala Lumpur
In which the kids and I popped along to a lovely medical clinic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to get a couple of shots. Which ones? Chef wasn’t with us, he’s had no shots in the last 5 years and is now very out of date, but alive. Read here….
Problems With Dogs While Travelling
Chef runs. He runs a lot as part of his Ironman training and he encounters dogs all the time. He also cycles. Dogs seem to really dislike runners and cyclists and these two activities put him at high risk of being bitten. He never has been.
He travels with his triathlon bike and has run some serious distances in most of the countries we have visited, it’s a great way to really see a country but it’s not without risk.
He had a very nasty run in with a pack of dogs on a beach in India. They encircled him with his back to the sea. He got out of that by targeting the alpha male and forcing him to back down.
He encounters huge, semi wild Romanian sheep dogs almost daily when we’re in Romania. These things are bred to fight off bears and wolves and protect their flock to the death. He’s always managed to face them down, he’s a dog man, he knows how to handle them.
Otherwise, no dog problems at all.
It’s embedded in the kids’ brains to stay away from dogs at all costs. Don’t pet them, don’t go near them. It’s been fine. One of the great things about being back in London is that they can, finally, pet that cute puppy in the park.
In months and months in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Europe, we have never had a problem with dogs other than when Chef is out running.
Problems With Monkeys While Travelling
Again, we’ve had no problems with monkeys in the last 5 years. Again we’ve drilled it into the kids to not go near them.
However, I know so many people who’ve been bitten by monkeys at Bali’s Monkey Forest in Ubud that you just wouldn’t believe. I also know a couple of people who’ve been bitten by dogs in Ubud.
Anywhere people feed monkeys, they get bold and they get nasty, these are the monkeys to avoid. Years ago, before this trip, we took the kids to the Monkey Forest. Boo was just 3 and still remembers a monkey rushing up to him and snatching a map out of his hand. It scared him. He really hates monkeys and so do I. I also saw a Thai child bitten by a gibbon once in Northern Thailand. We don’t mess with monkeys.
But no, we have not had any monkey problems in the last 5 years, we’ve encountered them, we’ve been to places where people feed them but we’ve managed to keep our distance.
Living in Romania and Rabies
Romania has a high rabies rate for Europe and you’ll see signs up warning about rabid foxes. The possibility of the kids encountering a rabid animal or being bitten by a village dog has played on my mind constantly. There are a lot of dogs in Romania and they’re kept for their bark and their bite, they’re not pets.
We were living in a country area, a rural village in northern Maramures County, there must be foxes although I’ve never seen one. There are wolves nearby and bears on the other side of the mountain.
However, we knew that there was a clinic in the next town that stocks post bite rabies treatment and if they were to be bitten help was at hand. We were talking to a local camp site owner just before we left. He said he’d had 4 guest bitten by dogs so far this year, and this was early summer, so yes, in Romania it has worried me. These 4 people were walking up the mountain, hikers, but I know of a couple of instances of people being bitten around the village, one was a runner. But still we didn’t get the shots.
For the record, I don’t run in Romania because of the dogs and I’ll only go off for a good hike if I have Chef with me.
Rabies Shots for Travelling Off The Beaten Track, Remote Destinations
This year we are trekking in Nepal again, next year, if the stars align correctly, we will be hiking in Pakistan, to K2 Base Camp. In both instances we will be days away, on foot, from a road or airstrip.
Helicopter evacuation is a possibility in Nepal, right up to Everest Base Camp, but I don’t want to test the insurance on that if we can help it.
In all honesty, you rarely see dogs in the high Himalayas, there are a few snow monkeys in places, but I think chances of being bitten are probably very slim. I haven’t even looked into rabies rates for Nepal and Pakistan, I just wanted peace of mind and the extra few days rabies vaccinations will buy us.
There’s nothing worse than stressing over whether on not you should do something, it’s done now. I can stop worrying. No more stressing over where the nearest hospital with a stash of rabies immunoglobulin might be.
Also altitude brings on sleepless nights, vivid dreams and anxiety. Having rabies shots will give me one less thing to worry about when we’re at 4,000m.
Why Didn’t We Get Rabies Shots Sooner?
The simple answer is time. There is also an element of language barrier and being in an unfamiliar country.
You need a month to get the full course of rabies vaccinations and we’re just rarely in one place for a full month.
Also there are the difficulties of arranging the rabies vaccinations, booking appointments and so on in a town or country that is totally unknown to us. It just makes things more complicated than they need to be, but of course it is do-able.
We Tried to Get Rabies Shots in Vietnam
I did. I emailed the big private hospital in Danang ( because we were living in Hoi An for 6 months) but they seemed to want to squeeze every cent they could out of us.
Obviously we had to pay for the shots for 4 people but they wanted to charge a consultation fee x 4 on top of that. Also the shots were far more expensive there than they are in Bangkok so I said no. I’d already heard that this clinic was a rip off so I had my guard up in advance.
We figured we’d head to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur later in the year and stay a month just to get the shots.
Getting Rabies Shots in London and What Did it Cost?
A full course of rabies vaccinations for 4 people at a private clinic in the City of London has cost us £400.
They did not charge us a consultation fee x4 and the friendly service and lovely surroundings made the experience very pleasant. The nurse was so great that even my needle-phobic younger child coped very well with the jabs.
The private clinic actually cost less than the NHS GP would have charged us, which is interesting. I don’t think rabies shots are free on the NHS ever, but I could be wrong. Basic travel vaccinations are, but not the ones deemed less than necessary.
So maybe the shots would have been cheaper in Bangkok, but we were in London. It was easy and stopping in Bangkok on the way to Nepal was going to be a hassle, so we wore the price.
These shots were intra-dermal not intra-muscular. I’m happy for the medical professionals to make that choice for us. I’ve worked in the NHS and in private medicine, differences like this aren’t unusual.
I’m very happy with our decision.
So that’s our rabies vaccination story. I still believe that rabies shots are pretty unnecessary for the usual kind of travel in South East Asia or in most of the world. I would put more thought into it for the Indian subcontinent and for Europe I still probably wouldn’t bother. But it’s done now, I feel good about it, my wallet is lighter but I’ll be less stressed. I always tell people to get the vaccinations they think they need, don’t listen to other travellers, just do what you think is necessary based on your own research because the worry just isn’t worth it. I also say that when you get on the ground, once you arrive in your destination and find yourself surrounded by healthy people a lot of fear will evaporate. Whatever you choose, it’s your call.