Surfers to Bali: Beware of RABIES


Dengue, malaria, Bali belly, typhoid and cholera: now add something else to the medical menaces, and this one way worse than them all. RABIES. Bali is currently in the midst of a rabies epidemic. In the last two years, over one hundred people have died of rabies from dog bites. That’s just the official count. The real figure is at least double.

For visiting foreigners, surfers are probably more at risk of getting bitten than most, because surfers get out and about, hitting the back trails and village paths to get to the waves.

I’ve talked to surfers over the last few months and am shocked how many are clueless about the rabies epidemic here in Bali. If you don’t know about it, and a dog nips you on the ankle, you will probably think an antiseptic wipe will be enough and you won’t think anything more about it, until you start dying a couple months later.

If you get bit by a dog (or any mammal) in Bali, even if it’s a puppy or a pet, and it’s a little nip that you don’t think broke the skin, DON’T MESS AROUND, clean the skin and/or wound thoroughly and get to a clinic, tell them you’ve been bitten by a dog, and make sure you get the rabies vaccine.

There’s a pretty good chance the dog has rabies. And if you get it, the virus is going to chew up your brain and you are going to die about as horrible a death as anyone can die. If you’re lucky, you’ll be paralyzed and suffocate (“dumb rabies”). If you get the so called “furious rabies” you’ll be ranting and raving and convulsing, like this unfortunate dude in the photo.

Mangy street dogs have been part of the Balinese scene for as long as there’s been a Bali.
Until two years ago, the Balinese assured everyone there was no rabies on the island, but no longer. This year alone there has been a reported 40,000 victims being treated for dog bites at hospitals and clinics. That’s right 40,000 – over one hundred a day. If the dog has rabies, and bite isn’t treated and vaccination not promptly given, the disease is ALWAYS FATAL.

According to Kim Patra, a registered nurse living and working in Bali: “The fact that this strain of rabies (here in Bali ) has an unusually long incubation period has fooled a lot of people. Commonly the incubation of rabies from exposure (bite) to the manifestation of signs of the disease is 2 weeks to 2 months. The current strain that we are faced with here seems to be taking much longer to manifest. Typically 6 months up to two years. So therefore, areas that do not yet seem to have the disease, could well have rabies in their animals, it just hasn’t shown up yet.”

In fact, do yourself a favor and read her whole article.


Prompt and proper treatment, and you’ll be right.

Below is the medico-speak from website health sources:

The symptoms of rabies in humans include irritability, headache, pain, itching or a twitching at the infection site, and fever. As the disease progresses, muscle spasms in the throat and respiratory tract affect breathing, and the sufferer may have difficulty swallowing, the combination of which can produce the trademark “foaming at the mouth”. Further symptoms of rabies as it progresses are hallucinations, convulsions, seizures, paralysis, and eventually death.

Rabies is a very serious viral infection, and once the symptoms of rabies have developed, the disease is fatal. However, it is a completely preventable disease if proper medical attention is sought for any circumstance that is suspect. If a person has been bitten by either a wild animal or a domestic animal without proof of vaccination, he or she should cleanse the bite with soap and water immediately and then seek medical attention.

The incubation period for rabies varies greatly, and signs or symptoms may develop within a week or may take months. It is important to understand that once the symptoms of rabies have developed, there is no treatment or cure. Suspect rabies cases and bite victims can be given preventative treatment if it is administered before the first sign or symptom.

The period between infection and the first flu-like symptoms is normally two to twelve weeks, but can be as long as two years. Soon after, the symptoms expand to slight or partial paralysis, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, hallucinations, progressing to delirium. The production of large quantities of saliva and tears coupled with an inability to speak or swallow are typical during the later stages of the disease; this can result in hydrophobia, in which the patient has difficulty swallowing because the throat and jaw become slowly paralyzed, shows panic when presented with liquids to drink, and cannot quench his or her thirst.
Death almost invariably results two to ten days after first symptoms; the few humans who are known to have survived the disease were all left with severe brain damage.

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3 Responses to Surfers to Bali: Beware of RABIES

  1. Ryan Palmer says:

    I was bitten in 2010 by on of them fecking monkeys down at Uluwatu. I was straight to the clinic for the Rabies shot!! Cost me about £230. No chance was I going to risk not having it!!

  2. wot happens if u have no money

    • If you’re a budget traveler, the prudent thing would be to a) before you leave home, buy travel insurance that covers medical expenses — this isn’t all that expensive; and b) have “only in case of emergency” stash of money on you.

      If completely broke, and you get bit, then beg, borrow, or steal. Well, don’t steal. Lots of people willing to help. If your country has a consulate or consular agency in Bali, they should help out–that’s what they are there for.

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