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Stray dogs, other animal bite risks in Morocco?

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I'm trying to make a very quick decision about whether to get pre-exposure rabies vaccine before a trip to Morocco. I'm asking, not for medical advice, but for your observations about stray animals in Morocco or stories you heard about animal bites in the country. (Also interested in you have similar observations/comments about neighboring countries)

I made a last-minute decision to go on a tour to Morocco, which will include cities (e.g., Fez, Marrakesh, Rabat), archeological sites, Sahara desert (with camels), smaller towns and villages, tent camp in the Sahara, several visits with local people in various towns and rural areas, Atlas Mts., hiking in a variety of areas (desert, gorges).

No vaccines are mandatory for visiting Morocco, but several immunizations and pre-exposure medical treatments are recommended. Pre-exposure rabies vaccine is recommended by the CDC for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural areas, hiking, engaging in activities that might bring them in direct contact with other mammals, all of which we'll do on this trip. (I read similar recommendations for visitors to Morocco from some other countries.) I went to a travel medicine office Monday (referred by my doctor), and made the much easier decisions about getting or not getting the other vaccines and preventive medicines. But I'm still undecided about the rabies. The risk may be fairly small, but because it's a fatal disease and because I'll be in some remote areas in a country where medical care may not be readily available, I'm considering the vaccine. But it's a series of three, very expensive, and side effects are not as rare or as mild as with most vaccines. So it's not something I want to decide lightly.

I did some superficial research and learned that rabies is a pretty serious problem in Morocco. It's not under control. (Most places I've traveled have much less risk--if any-- than in the USA.)

If you've been to Morocco, would you tell me whether you saw a lot of stray dogs, packs of feral dogs, whether you heard many stories of people getting bitten by camels or stray dogs or cats. Nurse at the travel office did a search and found that camels do get rabies, usually from dog bites. Of course I plan to avoid dogs, even ones that look nice and tame. I made friends with several stray(ish) dogs in Sicily when I could tell that they were good dogs, but I plan to avoid even making eye contact with dogs in Morocco.

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    I took a 12-day tour through Morocco which included the cities and the desert. I heard no reports of animal bites at all but I did see many, many stray kittens in the various medinas circling around the fish merchants. Most of the dogs I saw were clearly family pets...however, I did see a pack of wild dogs on the outskirts of Marakesh.

    I think contracting rabies is a long shot and there are so many other things that "COULD HAPPEN" to you on vacation.

    IMHO, instead of getting the pre-exposure rabies vaccine, I think you could ease your mind by investing in some hard core medical evacuation inurance. That way you will be able to leave the country for treatment no matter what might happen.

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    I spent several days in Morocco and I never even thought of this. I've seen a heck of a lot more stray animals in countries other than Morocco, in fact I don't remember seeing that many strays in Morocco.

    As stated above, this is one of a thousand things that could happen. I wouldn't give it another thought and I certainly wouldn't get any rabies vaccines in advance. Those vaccines can have bad side effects and there's no good reason to do this if you don't need it.

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    For my most recent trip (this past August) to Tanzania and Kenya (where we were self-driving and camping in the national parks for 4 weeks), our travel clinic recommended that I get the pre-exposure rabies vaccine, which I did. My husband already had it because of the nature of his work. I had no side effects whatever, but never have with any vaccines - and having traveled to Africa four times and having spent a year there in 2004 and 2005, I have had them all.

    One thing you should understand is that, even if you have the pre-exposure vaccine, you still have to get more shots if you are bitten. So, the pre-exposure does not prevent you from having to abandon your holiday (temporarily) quickly to be treated if you are bitten. All the pre-exposure does is buy you a little time - getting medical attention is not quite so urgent. At times, we were a two-day drive from medical assistance (although we were insured to the hilt, including the Flying Doctor Service), so the doctor felt is was wise for me to have the pre-exposure vaccine. Like you, I took the rabies threat seriously - it is fatal. Robin

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    I spent three weeks in Morocco last year, including a night (in a hotel) on the edge of the Sahara, and don't remember noticing any problems with dogs. You might want to avoid the monkeys at the tourist stop on the road south from Fez. Really, I wouldn't worry about this. If you're really paranoid, take your own needles in case you do need an injection, but I don't usually even bother with that. Enjoy Morocco.

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    Thank you for the replies. I've decided not to get the pre-exposure rabies vaccine. I think it also would have been a reasonable decision to get it. However, I'm acting (or choosing not to act) on the assumption that it's very unlikely that I will be bitten or scratched by a rabid animal during this two-week trip. I weighed that small risk against both the expense ($840) and the risk of adverse effects of the vaccine. According to the CDC site, there's a 6% chance of certain adverse side effects. (I know that some dogs--not any dogs of mine--have very serious, potentially fatal side effects from rabies vaccines.)

    NJriverchick: I did get trip insurance, including medical evacuation. I called the insurer to get some additional info about just what steps would be taken if I got bitten. Someone there checked with the company's physician who sees all claims, and told me that hospitals in Morocco are stocked with the rabies globulin and vaccine for post-exposure and that I'd be taken to med. assistance right away and the insurance coverage could then be verified later (when US offices are open).

    PM: Awareness of the risk of side effects was a big part of my reason to decide against getting the vaccine at this point. However, I've been hearing from people who said they saw many stray dogs in Morocco. I kept away from stray dogs in some places, e.g., Belize, where they seemed to be feral dogs and didn't look too healthy. But I confess that Idid not resist the urge to make friends with some friendly stray dogs in Italy. I will keep away from them in Morocco.

    Canadian Robin: I think the decision you made was a sensible one. If I were going to be camping for 4 weeks I'd get the pre-exposure vaccine, too. But I'll be in hotels for most of the two weeks and camping only two nights. Yes, I understand that the pre-exposure vaccine only buys time. But I think that's important when traveling in somewhat remote areas, or in a country that may not have good, well supplied hospitals. I will probably get the pre-exposure vaccine if I decide to go to China in a few eyars, especially after reading about the scandal involving fake rabies vaccine that was given to many dogs a few years

    Thursdays: I plan to avoid monkeys. No, not paranoid about the needles, but I did decide to get hepatitis-B vaccine (already had the "A"), just in case.

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    I'm updating this thread just in case anyone wonders about the factual question I initially raised about stray and feral animals in Mprocco.

    Yes, there were many, many stray dogs and cats and also feral dogs in Morocco, as well as other kinds of animals that could become rabid and that do come into contact with humans. I don't regret deciding to skip the rabies vaccine. It's a vaccine that can have some very serious adverse side effects, and since I wasn't bitten or scratched by any animal, I'm glad I didn't subject myself to that risk. If I had been bitten, I might have a different opinion now.

    In the cities, there were many dogs and cats that seemed to be strays. The dogs, especially, did not seem to be well nourished or healthy. They didn't seem especially drawn to people. I didn't know whether they were feral or merely strays.

    Cats were all over the place, including inside some restaurants, right where people were eating. The staff did not shoo them away, and their presence just seemed to be accepted, even inside a nice restaurant, where they were all over the carpeted floor and hanging around by the tables seeking handouts. In one beautiful botanical park, there were feral cat colonies. Volunteers came to feed them, but, in response to my question, I was told that they did not attempt to trap and neuter them. On the outskirts of one city--but I wish I could remember which one--there was a veterinary hospital funded by international donations that treated all sorts of animals, small and large.

    Outside the cities, there were dogs in the nomads' camps that we visited. Some approached us in a friendly way when we first visited, but did not come too close seeking physical contact. Others, who were around the edges of the camp, seemed to be guarding and wary of strangers and barked furiously when we wandered toward the outskirts of a camp to find "toilet" spots. The nomads' dogs all seemed reasonably healthy. We also saw healthy looking dogs herding.

    When we stopped at a cedar forest for a walk, we were met by a pack of dogs. These were ferals, not dogs attached to a group of nomads. They were beautiful dogs, slender but not skinny, and except for an eye infection in one, had no outward signs of illness. They were quite people-oriented and must have had a fair amount of experience meeting people. They approached us, but did not jump on us or seek physical contact. They seemed to be seeking food handouts, but were not too pushy about it. Based on the way they looked and behaved, if they had been in some country that has had no reported indigenous cases of rabies for several years I probably would have made the kind of eye contact with some of them that encourages dogs to approach for petting, etc., but since I was aware of the rabies problem, I didn't do that. However, they were nice dogs, and it took some effort to ignore them. In the same wooded area, we were told that there were wild monkeys, but didn't see them. However, some of the dogs in the background where we couldn't see them were barking furiously at something, and it might have been at a monkey.

    Peddlers and performers in a huge square in Marrakesh also had monkeys and were trying to lure people to get their pictures taken with the monkeys for a fee. (Snakes and iguanas also were used the same way, but they don't carry rabies.)

    There were donkeys all over, working, carrying loads. In the medina of Fes, they were horribly overburdened to the point of abuse. In the country, they carried huge but probably not excessively heavy loads of harvested materials and sometimes people. The country donkeys looked like they were in good shape. I suppose that donkeys can get rabies, but I don't know whether they do.

    The camels that we rode to to our camp in the Sahara were not nasty camels and didn't even spit.

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    Thank you for this updating information. I suppose I shall have to brace myself for the medina in Fes. As a life-long animal lover I don't relish witnessing what you are describing.

    We traveled to Bali last year and saw many, apparently feral dogs. About three months after our return, we learned there had been a rabies outbreak on Bali.

    It is always wise to keep in mind that the "western" standards we become accustomed to are by no means the norm in many places across the globe.

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