It’s a much debated topic in the western world whether or not you should vaccinate children. As a result, some parents have chosen not to, which puts everyone else’s children at risk of getting measles and other viruses that are easily transmitted from one child to another, but extremely easy to prevent as well if everyone just got the vaccination. It’s an extremely sad development, as Denmark was almost free of measles before this change in mindset in some people…
Measles or the vaccination debate doesn’t have anything to do with the story of how I *maybe* or *maybe not* got rabies in Azerbaijan, but I decided to include it here to give my view on this very controversial topic. I, for one, am extremely thankful for my parents’ decision to vaccinate me and my brothers when we were children. Who knows what would’ve happened if they hadn’t? At least we don’t have to worry about those diseases now.
Since I’m also out travelling a lot to places that have diseases such as hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis and tetanus, I’ve made sure to get these as well. Rabies, however, had never even crossed my mind.
Rabies is a disease that causes inflammation of the brain in mammals, including humans. The disease is animal borne, but can be transmitted to humans via a bite or lick on damaged skin. Once you get the symptoms, your life is basically over. The chance of surviving rabies is almost 100 % if you get the right treatment straight away after a bite or lick, but the chance of surviving once you get the symptoms is next to 0 % – and the symptoms can take seven years to show!
Anyways.. This is the story of how I may or may not have contracted rabies from a precious street cat in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The whole thing started when I was walking around the old town in Baku, exploring its quaint streets and enjoying my first day in the country. I was buying a ticket to go up the Maiden Tower, when this adorable little cat approached me on the ticket counter. She was so friendly, even a bit overly friendly.
Excited as I was to see a cat, I put down my stuff and sat down on the pavement to stroke the cat. The cat immediately jumped onto my shoulders and started kneading my jacket. It was so cute. I took several pictures, as did other tourists and I was really enjoying the moment, until the cat suddenly bit me right beside my left eye.
It didn’t hurt and it didn’t bleed. It also won’t leave a scar. But because of how strange the cat was acting, I started having fears of getting rabies. The cat overall looked healthy, but never in my life have I met a street cat that was THIS friendly and desperate for strokes and cuddles.
So when I got to my hostel (Cheeky Carabao Backpackers Hostel), I talked to them about it and they said I needed to see a doctor. I went to a 24-hour hospital right next to the hostel, but they weren’t able to help me. Instead, they pointed out a clinic on the map, which I could go to in the morning to get it done.
Crying my eyes out back at the hostel, I contacted a doctor in Denmark via an online chat, and she told me to get the vaccination as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the less chance there is for the vaccination to work. The owners of the hostel, Maryam and Jordan, saw me crying and offered to take me to a clinic nearby which was open 24 hours. Maryam called around and found out that they were able to do the vaccination there.
Maryam went with me in case she would have to translate what the doctor said, but thankfully he spoke English. He looked at my wound and said it probably wasn’t deep enough to do any harm. But if the cat actually had rabies and had given me a deeper bite, I would’ve been dead already, as it was so close to the brain. Even getting vaccinated against rabies before the bite wouldn’t have helped that. I felt sick, but also reassured that I would survive this.
Even though he didn’t think there was much chance of me getting rabies from the bite, he decided that I should undergo a 4-shot rabies treatment by vaccinations over the course of 28 days, having vaccinations on day 0, day 3, day 7, and the last one between day 14 and day 28. He decided that mainly because of how weird the cat acted and because I begged him to. I wasn’t going to take ANY chances.
That meant that I also had to come back to Baku on the 28th to get my second vaccination, and therefore had to change my travel plans in Azerbaijan, but thankfully I made it work so I still got to see everything I wanted. And still, my life was much more important than travel plans at that point.
What I went through in Azerbaijan was peanuts compared to what I had to go through in Denmark to get the last two vaccinations. To my surprise, getting a vaccination against rabies is not something one can just do in Denmark, like I could in Azerbaijan. Nope, I had to spend an ENTIRE day (I’m not exaggerating here!) calling backwards and forwards to my doctor, multiple pharmacies and the Danish State Serum Institute before someone finally told me that it should be my doctor calling around, not me. In the end, my doctor had to call the serum institute and they sent over the vaccines with a taxi so I could get the injection the following day. It had to be on that exact day according to the doctor, and then what would’ve happened if they weren’t able to get the vaccine there in time? I needed it so I wouldn’t die of rabies, if I actually had rabies! I was shocked to learn that Denmark’s health care system is not as brilliant as I thought. But at least I got treatment, although the price for the vaccines in Denmark is more than triple of that in Azerbaijan… Should’ve just stayed there until the treatment was over!
Getting bit by a cat and having to undergo rabies treatment certainly put a strain on my enjoyment of travelling through Azerbaijan. Although I loved the country and its people, I was constantly worried and anxious. It was also a really expensive ordeal, costing me over 2000 DKK. But it was worth it as I don’t want to risk my life.
Whenever I travel, I actively seek out cats. I looooooove cats and I find them almost everywhere I go, or they find me. I never imagined that a cat should be the cause of me having to undergo rabies treatment. However, I still love cats, including the one that bit me.
My point with this post is NOT to say that you should stop interacting with animals, instead please DO feed or stroke street cats and dogs (they need it). BUT if you see any animals with strange behaviour, it’s best to stay away from them and feed them from afar. If you’re as animal crazy as me, consider getting the rabies vaccination before you go travelling. If you do get bit, you’ll only need a booster vaccination at the local doctor, which won’t cost you nearly as much as getting 4 shots of the vaccination like I did. BUT depending on how severe your bite is, you might need immunoglobulin as well, regardless of whether or not you had the vaccination beforehand. It’s handy to know that not all places carry immunoglobulin, such as Azerbaijan and Bali, so you might need to fly to another destination that does if you need it to save your life.
And NEVER EVER let an animal you don’t know jump onto your shoulders or come anywhere near your face. It’s too close to the brain, so if that animals does have rabies and bites/licks you in the head, your days are counted, no matter how much immunoglobulin or vaccinations you have or get.
Also, if you ever find yourself in Baku and love hostel life, do stay at Cheeky Carabao! The people there are the loveliest and they helped me through all of this. I can wholeheartedly recommend the hostel!
Oh, and if you have children, VACCINATE THEM!
… So did I actually get rabies from the cat? I will – hopefully – never know.