Rabies Pre-Exposure Vaccination Series - FAQ

3 min. readlast update: 05.11.2023

What is the rabies pre-exposure vaccine series? 

The rabies pre-exposure vaccine is a 2-dose vaccination series meant to protect individuals who have not yet been exposed to rabies but may be at increased risk.  

Why is the rabies pre-exposure vaccine series useful? 

It is not a cure for rabies nor does it mean that you will not need further vaccinations after any exposure. However, if you are exposed, you will have more time to seek treatment and you will need fewer post-exposure vaccinations.  

How common is potential rabies exposure on AMIGOS? 

Historically, AMIGOS has had very low rates of animal exposures requiring rabies post-exposure vaccinations on both summer and Gap programs—about 1 in 500 volunteers. We take rabies very seriously. Any volunteer with potential exposure receives post-exposure vaccinations. 

What happens if I am exposed to a potentially rabid animal on AMIGOS? 

Rabies is deadly if treatment is not sought soon after exposure. For that reason, AMIGOS takes all possible exposures very seriously.  

If a volunteer is bit or licked on an open wound by a domesticated cat or dog, the animal will be observed for 10 days for signs of rabies. If, after 10 days, the animal shows no signs of rabies, then there is no risk of exposure. However, if the animal dies or otherwise shows rabies symptoms, the volunteer must receive post-exposure vaccinations.  

If a volunteer is bit, scratched, licked, etc by a that cannot be contained for observation, such as a bat, they will be required to receive post-exposure vaccinations.  

What is the difference in post-exposure vaccinations if I have the pre-exposure series? 

For volunteers without the pre-exposure series, the post-exposure vaccinations consist of the full rabies pre-exposure series plus doses of human rabies immunoglobulin. These vaccinations take place over the course of two weeks. Human rabies immunoglobulin is generally not available in Latin America, so volunteers must return to the United States for these vaccinations.  

For volunteers who had previously received the pre-exposure series, the post-exposure vaccination consists of additional doses of the pre-exposure vaccines but does not require human rabies immunoglobulin. Since the pre-exposure vaccines can generally be found in Latin America, the majority of the volunteers will not have to return to the US for treatment and may receive their post-exposure vaccinations while continuing the program. 

What does AMIGOS recommend? 

Rabies pre-exposure vaccinations can be expensive and time-consuming. For this reason, AMIGOS recommends but does not require the series. We encourage volunteers and families to weigh the costs and benefits of the vaccination series and speak with their medical providers if they have any worries. 

How many AMIGOS volunteers receive the rabies pre-exposure series? 

Historically, less than half of the volunteers receive the pre-exposure series.   

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