The Risk of Rabies for Travelers in Peru

Risk, Vaccinations, Symptoms and Prevention

Vampire bats continue to spread rabies in Peru
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The rabies virus is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected host. The bite transmits infected saliva, passing the virus to a previously uninfected animal. In humans, rabies is fatal unless treated before severe symptoms occur. If untreated, the virus spreads through the central nervous system, reaching the brain and ultimately leading to death.

Since the 1980s, Peru has greatly reduced the number of cases caused by infected dog bites. The mass vaccination campaign, however, could not entirely eradicate the threat posed by infected dogs and other animals. Infected bats remain a primary concern, especially in remote jungle areas.

Who Needs the Rabies Vaccination for Peru?

Rabies is not generally one of the recommended vaccinations for Peru. You should, however, consult your doctor before traveling. The vaccination may be recommended for certain travelers, especially those falling into one or more of the following categories:

  • Travelers whose occupations might bring them into contact with infected animals, such as veterinary workers and wildlife researchers
  • Volunteer workers who expect to work in close contact with animals, be it in an animal sanctuary, national reserve, zoo or otherwise
  • Adventure travelers, particularly spelunkers (cavers), who may find themselves in close proximity to infected bats
  • Long-term travelers, including expats, who may be spending extended periods of time in high risk areas (particularly in regions with limited accesses to medical care)

General Prevention and Recent Rabies Outbreaks

All travelers should exercise caution when in close proximity to animals, including wild animals and strays. If you are traveling with children, tell them not to pet wild or domestic animals (especially when unsupervised). Children may not report scratches or bites, making them particularly vulnerable.

Street dogs are common in Peru. While the number of rabies infections caused by dog bites has decreased drastically in recent years, the threat of rabies through infected dog bites still exists. Most strays appear tame and docile, but that does not mean they are free from infection.

You should be particularly cautious when handling wild animals and when in close proximity to bats. In August 2010, health workers gave the rabies vaccine to more than 500 people after a series of vampire bat attacks in the north-eastern Peruvian Amazon. In 2016, at least 12 indigenous Peruvians were confirmed dead as a result of rabies following another series of vampire bat attacks in the jungle.

Rabies Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache.” These symptoms can last for days, often accompanied by an itching sensation at the site of the bite. As the disease progresses, symptoms such as agitation, hallucinations, and delirium start to appear.

Treatment of Rabies

If you are bitten by a potentially rabid animal, you should first wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. You should then seek medical attention immediately.

Certain pieces of information can help your doctor assess the potential risk of infection, including the geographical location where the bite occurred, the type of animal involved and whether the animal could potentially be captured and tested for rabies.

If you had previously received the pre-exposure rabies vaccination shots (a series of three), you will still need two more post-exposure inoculations. The pre-exposure series gives initial protection against rabies, but does not offer complete resistance to the virus.

If you did not have any pre-exposure shots, you will need all five injections after being bitten by an infected animal, as well as rabies immune globulin (RIG).

Rabies and Bringing Pets to Peru

If you want to bring a cat or dog to Peru, it will need the rabies vaccination before traveling. If you are bringing your pet to Peru from the United States or another country with a low incidence of rabies, it will typically need to be vaccinated for rabies at least 30 days (but no more than 12 months) before travel. Always check the latest regulations before traveling to Peru with a pet.

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