How To Treat a Rabies bite

rabies dog

If you know you have been bitten or even THINK you might have been bitten by an animal carrying rabies then please please please seek emergency help as soon as possible!

Right, now, onto the meaty bit (too soon for jokes? haha). If you can’t seek emergency help immediately then make sure you have access to these two things:

  • Soap
  • Water

Yes, that’s right, the same two things you wash yourself with can really kill the rabies virus (also other viruses and bacteria!). If you don’t think soap and water are enough and want to be extra safe then have these in your first aid kit:

  • 3. Iodine
  • 4. Alcohol

How to treat a potential rabies scratch or bite on your skin

  1. Get a bottle of clean water and wet the skin directly where the bite or scratch is
  2. Rub soap onto the wet skin until you build a nice lather over the bite
  3. Repeat this process for 15 minutes
  4. Put antiseptic on the wound
  5. Cover the wound

Here are some things to note about the above process:

  1. The water needs to be clean and constantly running over the skin to wash away any of the virus that gets caught up in the soap. A running water tap, a garden hose or even a large bottle of water are all ideal – remember this has to be done for 15 minutes! Saline is a good option because it’s sterile so won’t contain or introduce any new bacteria/viruses to the open wound. The disadvantage of using saline is that you need a lot of it! Remember, we want to prevent rabies but also prevent any other infections – so DO NOT use dirty river water!
  2. The lather from soap is really important because it increases the reach of washing the wound. Lots of bubbles are encouraged to increase the contact surface area with the wound.
  3. 15 minutes – it’s longer than you might think, so set a timer! We all have a phone or a watch so put it to good use. This is a life-saving exercise 🙂
  4. Antiseptics have to be the most versatile and essential item to carry at all times whilst travelling. Antiseptic creams like Savlon or Germolene are nice and easy to slap on a wound after it has been cleaned. You want to prevent the skin itself becoming infected. Use antiseptic generously! Iodine is very good at killing off… well… everything (think post surgery!) so if you have that as a liquid or dry powder spray definitely use it. Betadine is great as an iodine spray. However, iodine can stain the skin temporarily and your clothing permanently so keep that in mind. Alcohol, as a liquid or gel, is a great antiseptic but will most likely cause a burning sensation so be prepared for that. Avoid alcohol as an antiseptic if you are near a camp fire – it is flammable!
  5. Use a plaster which won’t stick to the dry blood on the wound. You not only want to prevent the pain of removing the plaster but also encourage scab formation. Contrary to popular belief you don’t want to dry out the skin to form a scab. Good wound healing requires a protected, slightly moist environment. Your skin is mostly fat and water so drying it out will slow down the healing process (thank me later).

Now that you have done your best ever 15 minutes of wound washing, the next step is, yes, you guessed it, seek emergency help immediately. Let’s type that in a fancy quote box just for emphasis:

Even if you clean the bite, you still need to seek emergency help immediately!

Emergency help will normally involve a mixture of administering one or two types of injections.

The first injection would be for people who have had no prophylaxis injections against rabies. It’s an expensive and rare injection containing rabies immunoglobulin (so get your vaccines before you travel or check your insurance covers this cost!). Rabies immunoglobulin is a fancy injection which basically seeks and kills the rabies virus in your body before it can get to your brain and kill you. Yep. It’s a literal race to save your life – making it an emergency situation.

The second set of injections is for everyone that gets bitten and it contains inactive rabies virus. It seems weird right? But it’s essential to alerting your immune system to the existence of rabies virus in your body. If your body can’t detect the rabies virus right now, then it will in future thanks to the vaccine. The fight to save your life continues! Your body will only recognise what it has experienced before. That’s why vaccines are essential BEFORE being exposed to rabies and AFTER to help your body fight the rabies virus.

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I am a UK GPhC registered Pharmacist in London

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