IMOVAX and RabAvert: Pre-and Post-Exposure Rabies Prevention Vaccines

April 19, 2023

There is a low chance of contracting rabies in Canada, in large part due to long years of immunization programs. IMOVAX Rabies and RabAvert are vaccines easily available all across the country and prevent the disease from becoming a significant threat.

However, rabies is still present and can be fatal. It causes tens of thousands of deaths annually around the world. Once symptoms of rabies manifest, there is no treatment – that is why pre- and post-exposure vaccination is of the utmost importance.

In this article, you will learn about the disease and how it is transmitted, and how vaccines against rabies work – including those available in Canada, vaccination schedules, recommendations for their use, and how you can get immunized. So, let’s start.

What Is Rabies and How Is It Contracted?

Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system caused by viruses from the Rhabdoviridae family. The virus is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. If untreated, rabies can cause encephalitis in humans and other mammals.

Early symptoms of the disease may include fever, fatigue, and headaches. They may be followed by nausea and vomiting, partial paralysis, and uncontrolled movement. Rabies is fatal once symptoms manifest.

Rabies may be transmitted to humans:

  • Through the bite of an infected animal (the most common cause);
  • When the saliva of an infected animal enters the body through a scratch, broken skin, the respiratory tract or mucous membrane (rare);
  • Via the transplantation of organs from an undiagnosed infected person (rare).

When a human is exposed to the rabies virus, it will travel through peripheral nerves until it reaches the central nervous system. The incubation period may vary greatly, depending on how long it takes the virus to reach the brain. It can last several days to even years, but the most common time until symptoms manifest is 3 to 8 weeks.

Again, once symptoms of rabies manifest, the disease is almost always fatal. Rabies vaccines, like IMOVAX and RabAvert, can be taken to prevent rabies from spreading through the human body and as a treatment after exposure.

Rabies Vaccines Available in Canada: IMOVAX and RabAvert

There are two rabies vaccines approved for use in Canada:

  1. IMOVAX Rabies – contains an inactivated rabies virus, produced in human diploid cell culture, by Sanofi Pasteur, Ldt. (HDCV)
  2. RabAvert – contains an inactivated rabies virus, produced in chick embryo cell culture, by Bavarian Nordic (PCECV)

Both vaccines are considered equally effective and are intended for adults and children.

How Do Rabies Vaccines Work?

Rabies vaccines introduce a small amount of the inactivated rabies virus into your body. The virus is not alive. This causes your body to produce antibodies that will fight off the infection if it is needed. The antibodies typically develop within 7 to 14 days after immunization.

Rabies vaccines are effective both as a preventative measure and after you have been exposed to the virus, but not if the virus reaches the central nervous system and a person starts manifesting symptoms. Consequently, it is of utmost importance to vaccinate yourself against rabies and contact a doctor if you believe you have been exposed to the virus.

Which Groups Are Recommended IMOVAX or RabAvert?

Almost everyone should be vaccinated against rabies, either with IMOVAX or RabAvert. People that are at high risk of contracting rabies should prioritize getting vaccinated. These groups include:

  • Veterinarians and veterinary staff
  • Animal control workers
  • Hunters
  • Anyone else that works closely with animals
  • Travelers to areas of the world with a high occurrence of rabies (here is a map by the World Health Organization with risk indicators for rabies).

Note: Travellers should also take special care to receive travel vaccination against other kinds of diseases.

Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

People that are allergic to the rabies vaccine or some of its ingredients are not recommended the vaccine as a pre-exposure prevention method. However, because rabies is fatal without treatment, even people allergic to the rabies vaccine should get vaccinated if they are exposed to the virus.

The rabies vaccine also may interact with other medications. Consequently, inform your doctor or pharmacist of any medication you are taking or any medical conditions you have before receiving the vaccine.

The rabies vaccine may cause side effects, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, and tenderness, swelling, redness, or itchiness at the injection site. If you suffer from these or other symptoms after getting IMOVAX Rabies or RabAvert, contact your medical provider to seek advice.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a serious allergic reaction – like swelling in the face or throat or difficulty breathing – contact your medical provider immediately. Additionally, it is recommended to stay for 15 to 30 minutes at the place where you got the shot. The medical staff is trained to recognize and treat signs of an allergic reaction.

Pre-Exposure Vaccine Schedule

As pre-exposure protection, IMOVAX Rabies and RabAvert are given in 3 doses:

  • The initial dose
  • 7 days after the first dose
  • 21-28 days after the first dose

The vaccines are typically injected intramuscularly into the upper arm or thigh for children younger than 12 months.  

Post-Exposure Treatment

Post-exposure vaccination consists of:

-For persons that have not been previously vaccinated against rabies: 5 doses of the vaccine given on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28.

-For persons immunized against rabies: 2 doses on days 0 and 3.

Rabies immunoglobulin is also given to persons previously not immunized. The post-exposure vaccine schedule should be followed as strictly as possible and all doses need to be taken.

Get Vaccinated for Rabies in Toronto

You can get vaccinated with IMOVAX Rabies or RabAvert at Everest Whole Health Pharmacy in Toronto. Simply