Rabies vaccines

The rabies vaccine helps protect you against rabies Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL) and some other lyssaviruses.

Vaccine recommendations

The rabies vaccine is recommended if you are planning on travelling overseas to a country where the risk of catching rabies is high, please refer to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website to see if you are going to a country where there is a high risk of infection.

In Australia, those in contact with bats are at an increased risk of ABL and vaccination is recommended. If you are at a continual risk of exposure, you may also require booster doses in the future, please speak with your doctor.

Bitten or scratched by a potentially infected animal?

Post (after) exposure rabies vaccines are recommended to all individuals who have been potentially exposed to the rabies virus or Australian bat lyssavirus following a bite or scratch from:

  • a bat (in Australia or overseas)
  • an animal in a country where rabies is found.


Treatment will vary depending on the type of exposure, previous vaccine history and any treatments that may have been commenced overseas at the time of the exposure. You may also need rabies immunoglobulin injected into the area around the bite or scratch to give you immediate protection. 

How the rabies vaccine is given

The rabies vaccine is given as an injection into the thigh if under 12 months of age, and the top of the arm from 12 months of age.

If you require rabies vaccine prior to travelling, or if you are involved closely with bats in Australia, a total of three vaccines will be required.

If you require post exposure treatment:

  • two vaccines may be required if you have previously received a primary course (three doses)
  • four vaccines will be required if you have not previously received a primary course (three doses).

Once started, post-exposure rabies treatment must be completed  unless directed by a medical officer in SA Health's Communicable Disease Control Branch, because the disease is almost always fatal.

Possible side effects of the rabies vaccines

Like any medications, the rabies vaccine can have some minor and short lasting side effects. 

Common side effects include:

  • redness and swelling at the injection site
  • headache
  • nausea
  • feeling tired and lethargic.

Very rarely, you may experience a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine.

If you are concerned, seek further advice from your doctor, immunisation provider, SA Health’s Immunisation Section or healthdirect Australia.

Any unexpected event following immunisation should be reported to SA Health.

Reducing the side effects

Many of the common side effects can be reduced by:

  • drinking extra fluids
  • resting
  • taking paracetamol
  • not over dressing if you are already hot.

Where to get immunised

To receive the vaccine prior to travelling overseas, contact your doctor or travel vaccination centre.

If you are seeking post (after) exposure treatment, urgently visit your nearest:

  • doctor
  • travel vaccination centre
  • emergency department.

Further information

For further information on immunisation, contact SA Health's Immunisation Section.