Rabies is a viral disease caused by the lyssavirus that can be transmitted from infected animals to humans through bites, scratches, or infected saliva that comes into contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose. If you have an encounter with an animal that either tests positive for rabies or can’t be found for testing, you should seek treatment immediately before symptoms of rabies begin. After the onset of rabies symptoms, it’s very difficult to successfully cure the disease and it almost always causes death.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system and eventually causes encephalitis in an infected human or animal. Symptoms might not occur right after exposure. Generally, the rabies incubation period can take between one and three months. It can take as few as four days or as long as six years for symptoms to show up. This depends on where the wound is, how serious it is, and how much virus is present.
The symptoms of rabies often start with fever, headache, and anxiety, but they quickly become very serious and life-threatening. These symptoms can include the following:
- Inflammation of the brain
Because untreated rabies infections lead to death, it is fortunate that Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine for this virus in 1885. Today, treating rabies exposure with the rabies vaccine can prevent the disease if it’s received within 10 days, and it is 100 percent effective as a cure if it is administered early.
If you’re bitten, scratched, or have contact with the saliva of an animal that might be infected, you should wash the site of the wound thoroughly with soap and water, contact your physician or another health care provider right away, and get vaccinated for rabies immediately if they recommend it. You should also consider getting vaccinated for rabies as a preventive measure if you work in an environment with a high risk of exposure.
Does Medicare cover rabies vaccines?
Original Medicare Part B (medical insurance) pays 100 percent of the cost for the following types of vaccines:
- Influenza (flu)
- Hepatitis B (if you’re at a high risk of getting hepatitis)
- Those necessary to treat an injury or exposure to a disease or medical condition like tetanus and rabies
Medicare Part B will cover your rabies vaccinations if your physician certifies that they are medically necessary to treat your exposure to the disease. However, Medicare might not cover rabies vaccinations if they are for disease prevention. You should discuss the details with your health care provider to get more information about restrictions.
If you have a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, you should have coverage for medically necessary rabies vaccines. However, depending on the type of plan you have, you might have to pay a coinsurance charge, and you may need to use plan-approved providers or pharmacies for your vaccinations.
How much does a rabies vaccination cost without Medicare coverage?
If you haven’t been vaccinated for rabies in the past and you become exposed, you’ll need four injections over a period of 14 days. If you’ve been vaccinated for rabies in the past, you’ll only need two booster injections after exposure.
The national average out-of-pocket cost for one rabies vaccine runs between $1200 and $6500 depending on the type of vaccine, where you purchase it, and the dosage. Thankfully, most insurance plans, like Medicare, cover the cost after accidental exposure.