Whether you’re a hard-and-fast animal lover or can’t stand the sight of them, it’s likely that you’ll come into some form of contact with animals on a trip abroad. It’s important to be wary of even the cutest of critters, especially if they’re wild, potentially aggressive or are from known areas of rabies or tetanus endemic. The best advice we can give you is to steer clear of all animals as best as you can while you’re on holiday and to avoid any unnecessary contact. However friendly they look, you never know how a wild animal will react!
Apart from being extremely painful, animal bites can be really dangerous and potentially lethal for us humans. The biggest worry with animal bites is the transmission of rabies.
Rabies is a common problem all around the world and can be found in all countries, except the UK, parts of Scandinavia, Japan, Oceania, the Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, and some Caribbean islands.
Rabies can be passed to humans in many different ways, but it’s usually transmitted through the bite of an animal. Unluckily for us, we’re most likely to be infected with rabies by man’s best friend: the common, domestic dog. Rabies is a very serious disease for humans and, if left untreated, will always be fatal.
Bat Rabies: there’s also a very closely related virus called the Lyssavirus that’s carried by bats. This little-known virus is called ‘bat rabies’ and will cause almost the same symptoms as rabies itself. You’ll find bat rabies even in countries like the UK, which are usually thought to be free from the rabies disease. If you come into close contact with any bats then you should always seek medical advice because sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’ve been bitten.
So, what can I do to avoid getting rabies?
Unlike with insect bites, there are no handy creams or repellents you can buy to protect you against animal bites (link to insect page). We’d say that the best precaution you can take against rabies is to not stroke any unknown dogs, cats or animals you encounter on your travels. Never try to make friends with a wild animal, like a jackal, fox or a bat!
If you’re travelling somewhere with a known rabies endemic, then you should treat all licks, bites or scratches as potentially dangerous. Always go to get these checked as soon as possible by a medical professional.
If you do think you’ve been exposed to the disease, then follow these basic first-aid steps:
- Wash the bite with water and soap or detergent for a good 5 minutes
- Apply an antiseptic like iodine, alcohol or chlorhexidine to the wound after it’s been washed properly so that it doesn’t get infected
- If the wound is bleeding lots, then cover it with a sterile pad or bandage and apply pressure
- Go for medical advice as soon as you possibly can!
Sometimes, you’ll need to have anti-rabies or tetanus vaccines after you’ve been bitten. Even if you’ve had the rabies immunisation, then after the bite you’ll still need 2 more doses of the vaccine to make sure you don’t get it. If you’ve never had a rabies vaccine then it’s even more important to get seen to by a doctor right away.
Apart from rabies, you’re also at risk of getting a bacterial infection after a nasty animal bite. Even though you’re most at risk of getting bitten by well-looked after domestic dogs or cats, there’s no telling what types of bacteria or disease could be lurking in the jaws of any animal. In mammals, there are hundreds of millions of bacteria swimming around in their saliva, and lots of these will cause an unpleasant infection.
You’ll know if a bite becomes infected when:
- it’s red and swollen
- the bite becomes really sore
- there’s pus or ooze leaking from the wound
- you start to feel fluey and have a high temperature, which is a sign that the bacteria has reached the bloodstream
If you have any of these symptoms then you should go to see a medical professional right away. In some rare cases, these infections could lead to more serious ones like sepsis (blood poisoning), meningitis or endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the heart).
Even if you weren’t on your holiday, you wouldn’t want to deal with a painful animal bite. Again, never approach a stray or unknown animal while you’re out and about. Like you would with any new friends you make on holiday, you don’t want to invade their personal space! If you’re travelling with children, then it’s also important that you don’t leave them alone with any animals, even if it’s a domestic cat or dog.