Why you need a Rabies Shot Before Traveling to Southeast Asia.

I have lived in Asia for many years (Thailand, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong). And I have traveled throughout most of Asia one time or another. One thing I have learned is that it can be common for some dogs to be wandering the streets. Many of these same dogs could come up and bite and infect you with rabies.

Travelers to Asia and especially Southeast Asia should be sure to get or ensure their rabies shots are up-to-date before they travel anywhere in southeast Asia. The reason is that rabies is still a common problem in many of these areas and if you are traveling out in the countryside, getting a shot may be difficult or almost impossible to obtain.

There are many reasons why a rabies shot is important and here are some of the reasons:

Rabies – A preventable – yet fatal disease

Rabies is a disease that is preventable if your vaccinations are up-to-date and you get bitten by a rabies-infected animal (mainly dogs), then with the vaccination update, you will not die. But if you do not have your shots up-to-date and you get bitten and allow rabies to develop, you will die. It can be said that rabies is 100% fatal but also a 100% preventional disease. This is why you need to make sure that all your rabies vaccinations are updated is before you travel to southeast Asia.

The World Health Organization in their Rabies report has estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 people die each year in Southeast Asia. This is accounts for about 45% of all rabies death worldwide.

It is because of these astounding numbers that every traveler to Southeast Asia should have updated rabies vaccinations. The group that seems to be particularly vulnerable during their travels is the backpackers. This is in part can be because many backpackers may be in local areas or out walking on the roads more than travelers who are at a hotel and taking taxies or private cars.

Children ages 5 to 15 years old account for the major dog bites in the affected areas and most of the time it affects people who are in poverty because they are exposed to animals that are not vaccinated and they themselves also do not get the vaccinations.

Dogs on the streets

Throughout Southeast Asia, many people will have a dog that they may consider a guard dog. Many times they will let the dogs loose on the streets without any kind of muzzle. Many of these same dogs are trained to be very mean as they want them to protect their property. These dog owners may not see the need to have these dogs be vaccinated against rabies and as many places have no law or legal requirements that enforce regular animal vaccination or medical care of these animals, the owners see no need to spend the money and vaccinate their pets or guard dogs.

I have personally had two very bad experiences with these mean street dogs. Both of these events happened in the West Lake area of Hanoi, which is known to be the expat area or where many foreigners live. I mention this as generally the streets are clean but still there are dogs that roam the streets in attended and without muzzles. Some of these dogs can be quite mean.

The first incident happened when my maid was walking my dogs. Suddenly out of nowhere a dog came and bit my dog right in the kidney and he instantly died. We called the police and the police talked to the owner. There was no law, that makes a dog killing another dog a crime of any kind. There was nothing to enforce the owner to take responsibility and the owners felt they had done nothing wrong. I did notice that sometime later the dog was still roaming the streets but he did have on a muzzle. I also heard that this same dog has previously bitten other dogs and other people.

Another incident happened when I was out walking my dog and a dog came up and bit me in the leg. We went to the house owner to ask them to provide documentation to show their dog had all their shots updated. The house owner could not provide any documentation for their dog or show us that their dog had their rabies shot. I had to go get treatment for rabies. The first clinic I went to in Hanoi get the shot did not have any shots left so they sent me to another clinic.

If you happen to get a bite while in Hanoi, you can read our blog entitled Guide to Emergency Medical Care in Hanoi. Vietnam by clicking here. This blog tells you the major clinics or hospitals you can go to get adequate medical care.

Dragon, Tibetan Spaniel
Know how to properly approach a dog. Dragon, Tibetan Spaniel, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Facts about rabies

Here are some facts about Rabies. Most of these facts have come from the World Health Organization.

  • 99% of human cases of rabies are caused by dog bites. Rabies is transmitted by the silva of an infected animal. So it does not need to be just a bite it can also be a scratch that can infect you.
  • Thoroughly washing the wound with soap can help but if infected you need to get a vaccination. Seek immediate attention if you are infected or if you suspected that you are infected Do not take the chance and wait.
  • Rabies affects mainly rural areas, but you can also find rabies in dogs in the city. The most highly affected parts of the world for rabies are Africa and Asia.
  • There is about 1 death every 9 minutes due to rabies, but at least 40% of the victims are under 15 years old.
  • Learn the language of dogs. Do not try to pet a dog that is not friendly, Also, do not throw anything at a dog or try to kick a dog. Try to walk away from the dog and leave it alone. Dogs do not just bite to bite someone A dog will bite if they feel threatened, scared, pain or frustration. Also if they want to protect their home or territory or if they not socialized to be around people or other animals. In many parts of Southeast Asia, many dog owners may purposely not socialize their dogs as they want them to be guard dogs and scare away invaders or people who should not be there.

11 top rabies virus symptoms

If you do get bitten by a dog, especially if you are traveling anywhere in Asia or Africa we highly suggest that you seek immediate medical attention as this is such a fatal disease. If you are not able to get immediate attention throughly wash the wound.

The rabies virus can lay dormant in you for 1 to 3 months. This is another reason why when you are bitten by an animal you suspect has rabies that you seek immediate medical attention. You may feel fine now, but the full-blown symptoms can come later. The problem is if you leave it too late it may just be too late for the doctors to do much to help you so best if you seek immediate medical attention after you have been bitten,

Here are some symptoms of rabies:

  • Fever – The fever is usually the first sign that something is wrong. You may feel a general weakness or tiredness. You can also feel some pain and tingling or burning around the site of the wound.
  • Headache – A headache after a bite is some of the early signs of rabies. The virus will gradually spread towards the brain and spinal cord. In the first 10 days, a person will feel a mild pain around the head in the form of constant pressure. The pain may start from the front and then the back and eventually going to the top of the head. There can also be dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Anxiety – Another sign of rabies is anxiety or feeling very anxious all the time. The heart rate will increase and hyperventilation is a possibility. There can be weakness and lethargy and profuse sweating. There can also be a sharp burning in the chest or a stabbing feeling in their chest or other parts of the body. You may notice a noticeable change in their personality.
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal issues – More than likely a person exposed to rabies will also have digestive or gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or constipation.
  • Hallucinations – A person with rabies may experience hallucinations. They may believe they are hearing or seeing things that no one else does. They may even think something is crawling is on them when it is not.
  • Loss of Appetite – When exposed to the rabies virus a person may have a loss of appetite. They may not feel like eating anything. And along with this can be a feeling of depression and hopelessness. The lack of eating can also cause muscle spasms.
  • Seizures, loss of vision and consciousness – Rabies affects the activity of the brain so that a person who is experiencing the rabies virus, can have seizures and experience a loss of vision or even burning in the eyes. They can lose consciousness and feel dizzy and lightheaded.
  • Insomnia – Due to the other symptoms there can be insomnia. They may wake up repeatedly in the night.
  • Agitation – Agitation is another symptom of rabies. This can usually happen 10 to 15 days after they have been affected. As rabies affects the brain there can be almost manic types of episodes.
  • Difficulty swallowing – As the rabies symptoms start to progress, a person infected with rabies may start to have a difficulty swallowing. They may feel like there is constantly something blocking or obstructing their throat. There can also have a burning sensation to it.
  • Partial paralysis – As the rabies virus affects the brain functions and the spinal and nervous systems, a person with the rabies virus can have some partial paralysis such as on the face, hands or even the vocal cords.

Suspect you are infected with rabies? Go see a doctor.

Even if you are not sure, it is always best to be 100% sure and to go to a see a doctor after you have been bitten by a dog or animal that you suspect may have the rabies virus Rabies is not a fun way to die. So if you are bitten with rabies go see a doctor immediately.

If it happens when you are traveling you can ask the owner of the dog to compensate you but depending on the owner of the dog, the circumstance of the bite (did you kick the dog so that dog attacked you?) you may or may not get any compensation. You can ask the owner if they have a vaccination card, but do not be surprised if in many places around southeast Asia this is not common. Could be their dog has never been to a vet.

So for your own safety, the safest way is for you to go to see a doctor. This is the safest way to ensure you are protected against this virus. Even if you have had a rabies shot and if the wound or bite is severe, I would also go to see a doctor and have them check out your wound. They may decide for your safety to give you a booster shot to be sure.

Rabies Treatments

There are several types of medical procedures for rabies treatments. The easiest of all these is the preventive one, which is basically a rabies shot. Here are the treatments:


This is a vaccine that prevents rabies before or after an animal bite. Treatment must begin BEFORE any rabies symptoms appear.


If you have the symptoms or they suspect you have rabies then the treatment is a blood transfusion and antiviral drug.

Both of these would be more painful and time-consuming and may even require hospitalization.

Medical Procedures

There has been some experimentation of where they have put a person into a deep sleep (coma) and then medicate them against rabies.

As you can see from these three kinds of procedures that the one that is the easiest is the first one – preventative. That is why the simple procedure of the rabies shot makes the most sense. The other options are far more dangerous and intrusive for you and your body.

Koda, Hanoi, Vietnam.
If you want to pet a dog, ask the owner for permission to pet their dog. Koda, Poddle. Hanoi, Vietnam.

Other notes on rabies transmission

Dogs are not the only animals that carry the rabies virus. Any mammal can have the virus. Here are some other animals you can also get the virus from:

  • monkeys
  • raccoons
  • foxes
  • skunks
  • cattle
  • wolves
  • bat
  • cats
  • domesticated farm animals
  • groundhogs
  • weasels
  • bears
  • wild carnivores

If for example, you decide to do some caving in southeast Asia, be careful of the bats. Also if you are going to a place that has monkeys, be careful with the handling of the monkeys.


If you are planning to travel around southeast Asia, Asia or even Africa, the smartest thing you can do is to ensure that you are vaccinated against the rabies virus. If you do happen to get bitten in the course of your travel, then go to see a doctor, so that you can ensure there is no problem. The prevention of rabies is easy but once you get the disease it can be fatal. It is always better for you to be safe instead of sorry.

Anita L Hummel from A Bus On A Dusty Road

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