Women Veterans Health Care has developed materials to help alert women Veterans to their risk of rabies. VA recommends that women Veterans talk to their providers about rabies if they were exposed to animals while deployed in the past 18 months. Find important information for women Veterans and providers, and outreach posters, below.
Rabies can be spread from animals to humans through a bite or when a rabid animal's saliva comes in contact with a person's eyes, scratch or open wound. While the risk of rabies is low in the United States; Veterans, especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, are at an increased risk because both countries have many stray animals, no widespread program for animal vaccination, and are considered high-risk for rabies exposure by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control.*†
Rabies can stay inside the body without symptoms for weeks, months and in some cases, for more than a year. Not all rabid animals show outward signs of having the rabies virus. A person who knows or thinks they have been exposed to the rabies virus must complete a course of post-exposure prophylaxis before symptoms begin. Once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is nearly always fatal.
Rabies pre-exposure and post-exposure vaccinations are safe for pregnant or lactating women. It is particularly important for pregnant women to receive the post-exposure vaccinations as soon as possible following suspected contact with the virus because rabies could result in the death of both the mother and fetus. Neither pregnancy nor breast feeding should deter the clinical decision to provide post-exposure treatment.
Between 2001 and 2010, 643 service members in theater were bitten by animals, roughly half of which were from dogs. Of those bites, 177 service members received rabies vaccinations and 25 received rabies immune globulin, a treatment for patients who didn't previously receive a rabies vaccine but who may have been exposed.
In its September Medical Surveillance Monthly Report,* (306 KB, PDF) the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center said animal bites often go unreported because they are considered minor wounds. Service members, however, should be aware of the risks, the report warns.
Women are now the fastest-growing subgroup of U.S. Veterans. The number of women Veterans is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 years, and VA health care services are in high demand by the women Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Department of Veterans Affairs understands the health care needs of women Veterans and is committed to meeting these needs. Women Veterans served and they deserve the best quality care. Learn more about VA health care services for women Veterans.
VA Web site about rabies
Global Alliance for Rabies Control.*†
Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center's Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (September 2011)*(306 KB, PDF)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Information about Rabies*
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†VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked Web site.