All about Rabies

Smuggled animals are often sick with other diseases, but many people do not realise that

What is Rabies?
  • Rabies is a zoonotic disease (a disease that is transmitted to humans from animals) that is caused by a virus. It can infect both domestic and wild mammals.
  • Rabies is a fatal infection that causes horrific symptoms.
  • Rabies occurs in more than 150 countries and territories.
  • Worldwide, more than 55 000 people die of rabies every year.
  • Rabid dogs are the source of 99% of human rabies deaths.
  • 40% of people who are bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under 15 years of age.

Hong Kong has been rabies free for the past 30 years.
But more than 500 people still die of rabies annually in Mainland China.


Rabies is spread to people from the saliva of infected animals. Symptoms usually appear between 3 to 8 weeks.


The initial symptoms may be flu-like symptoms such as general discomfort, fever, or headache, which may last for days, progressing to acute pain, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, depression, and terror of water (hydrophobia). Finally, there are periods of mania and lethargy, eventually leading to coma and then death.


There is no test available to diagnose rabies in humans before the onset of symptoms.

Rabies is fatal and there is no treatment once symptoms have developed. 

Rabies is 100% preventable!
  • Don’t get bitten! Avoid unfamiliar dogs and wild animals.
  • Don’t buy pets if you don’t know where they come from. Such pets are often unvaccinated and could carry rabies.
  • If you are visiting a rabies endemic country and will come in contact with animals, seek medical advice one month before you leave.
  • Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease.
  • The most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people is by eliminating rabies in dogs through vaccination.

By law, if you own a dog it must be licensed and vaccinated against rabies every 3 years.

If you are bitten by ANY animal:
  • Wash wounds thoroughly with soap, water and an antiseptic such as Betadine for at least 15 minutes to kill as much of the virus as possible.
  • Seek medical advice immediately. 
  • Animal bites should be reported to any Accident and Emergency Department at Hong Kong government hospitals.
  • Even if you have been vaccinated against rabies, you may need to be vaccinated again after you are bitten.


Date review: 16/12/2019