Will I Die of Rabies if a Cat Bites Me in Morocco?

Storrrrryyyytime!

As you might be able to tell from this post title, this one is all about rabies and cat bites in Morocco! If you’ve just gotten bitten and you’re in a panic and not in the mood for a story, just skip to the bottom for quick guide on what to do. If you’re looking for a story, well, here you go!

Sweating in the Desert

There we were at our Sahara Desert camp. We were seriously questioning our whole decision to come out to Merzouga at this point. We weren’t crazy about our guesthouse owner, and it was freaking hot. Even when we showered, we never felt fully clean.

It was nighttime after dinner. Our inner thighs were sore from the camel ride, we were quite dusty since, after all, we were in the desert, and no matter what I really couldn’t bring my body temperature down. Sitting by a bonfire after dinner did not help.

Us earlier

As I was getting caught up trying to get photos of the stars, Autumn came out of our tent and informed me we had a small problem that was probably my dreams come true.

Since we had left our tent doors open to air out our room, some kittens with  a mi casa, su casa mindset had set up shop around our beds! Their mama cat was sitting outside our tent looking very annoyed.

I’m not proud, but also not really ashamed, to say I was not much help. My only real suggestion was to leave our door open, to which Autumn reminded me of the other desert creatures that could crawl in at night that way. We tried chasing them out, but they went every which way except out our door, and then we realized we didn’t actually know how many there were.

I started laughing and trying to woo them out unsuccessfully while Autumn tried to figure out how to actually get them out of our tent. By this point the tiny kittens were quite spooked by our presence and the different lights, so they had managed to wedge themselves in a corner behind Autumn’s bed in between two tent layers.

Autumn had me hold a basket to put them in. I thought she meant she was going to chase them to me, so I held the basket side ways like a wicker trap. Turns out this isn’t what she had in mind.

She managed to pick one up, and that’s when absolute chaos ensued. The tiny kitten went wild in her hands, hissing like crazy, and that’s when I realized the basket needed to be upright. Anyway, as she put the kitten into the basket, it just leapt out. Luckily, this made it run right out our door.

However, Autumn was wounded in the process – on her ring finger were two tiny bite marks that were bleeding. Oops.

We managed to shoo a second kitten out of our tent, and when the mama cat and two kittens began to walk away, we decided there were only two, otherwise they’d still hang around waiting for more to pop out.

Once peace had been restored and we shut our door firmly, we examined Autumn’s finger. It was a normal cat bite, and it was a bit puffy since she’s technically allergic. I didn’t think much of it until she said, “I guess I have to look into getting a rabies shot tomorrow.”

“A rabies shot? Really? Do you think they had rabies?”

“I don’t know, but they’re feral cats who ran into our room.”

I didn’t know anything about rabies. Images of dogs foaming at the mouth and knowing people died from bites flooded my mind. Being the dramatic person I am, I began to panic, but Autumn remained calm and informed me of the following:

  • Rabies can be dormant for months until symptoms appear
  • There are vaccines that cure you as long as you get them ASAP

Since we couldn’t do any Googling for rabies in Morocco without wifi, we decided to sleep and figure things out tomorrow.

The Next Day

Well, turns out rabies are quite serious in Morocco! And here I’d been petting all the outside cats I could see without a care in the world.

When I googled “Rabies Morocco,” this is the shit that came up first:

NOT HELPFUL!

Of course, none of the articles really went into what you do if you get bitten, so now that Autumn and I have figured it out, I’m sharing it with all of you guys (with her permission, obviously).

When we got back to our guesthouse, we immediately told the owner we needed to go to the hospital for a vaccine. This is one of those instances where the mansplaining was basically slapping us in the face. It was very annoying. We asked the owner and his friend (there were always random male friends just hanging about), how to get to the hospital in Merzouga because a cat had bitten Autumn and she’d like the vaccine.

Cue: “Oh, it’s no big deal! I’ve been bitten by a cat before. You’ll be fine!” Multiple times.

Like, they really didn’t want to help us. Let me remind you, my body temperature hadn’t cooled down since we were dropped off in the desert, and those headlines are what we read when we looked for advice on cat bites. And let me remind you, the owner was already grinding my gears. Irritated is an understatement.

We held our ground, and he finally offered to drive us into town (we could have walked). The hospital in Merzouga is about as… ramshackle as you might imagine. We pulled up to an unassuming building and a bunch of women with babies and men crowded in the hallways. Nope, there was no A/C anywhere either. They were staring at us, probably thinking, “What the hell are foreigners doing here?” The atmosphere was about as cheerful as you’d expect.

Anyway, the owner led us into an office where a doctor was sitting at his desk. He was surrounded by books and a window and that’s about it. He and the owner started talking in Arabic, and you could just tell from the tones and body language, that our guesthouse owner was straight up downplaying the cat bite.

“Autumn,” I muttered irritably, “Just ask the doctor if he speaks French.”

After a pause, Autumn interrupts the hostel owner and begins speaking French with the doctor. It goes something like this:

Doctor: Why do you want a vaccine for a cat scratch?

Autumn: It’s not a scratch, it’s a bite. *Shows finger*

Doctor: Oh, that’s much more serious. You need to go to the hospital in the next town over. Here’s a note; they’ll know what to do.

Once Autumn translates it for me, I am quietly but openly seething. Our hostel owner doesn’t even have the wherewithal to look abashed at the fact that he a) clearly didn’t listen to us when we told him it was a bite multiple times and b) actively worked against us every step of the way.

Imagine if Autumn didn’t speak French and we just trusted our hostel owner? She could have ended up like that Briton!

The Next Town Over

Anyway, after the doctor made it clear she needed a vaccine, our hostel owner had no choice but to finally listen. So he helped us get a taxi to the next town over, and Autumn held the doctor’s note in her hand.

The next town over was about 30 minutes away. Once we got there, we went into the hospital which, while slightly bigger, still looked pretty ramshackle. Plenty of people were sitting in the halls, and there was no A/C.

Our driver led us in and then to our pleasant surprise, a female doctor emerged. She took us into a room with two women who were laying on hospital tables looking how I felt.

As Autumn and she talked for a bit in French, the driver came in and started talking over them in Arabic. Are you fucking kidding me?! The doctor seemed to take it in stride, which makes sense because she’s probably dealt with this bullshit her whole life. She and Autumn continued to talk while she set up the syringes.

Autumn had to take off her shirt since the shots had to go in the upper arm, and her sleeves didn’t go up high enough. I told her to translate and tell our driver he could wait out in the lobby or hallway, but, naturally, he ignored this and just stood there! Perv.

As Autumn stood there in her bra with the two ladies looking uncomfortable at a male presence, the doctor delivered a shot in each arm while I did my best to block the driver’s view.

Anyway, after a bit, Autumn put on her shirt, we grabbed some soda from a stand near where the car was parked, and we drove back to Merzouga. In her hand was another doctor’s note:

No one charged us for the shot, so we weren’t sure if we had to pay. Later when Autumn got her second shot in Essaouira, she found out the vaccines are free in Morocco, though she had to go to a pharmacy to buy the syringe there.

And that, kids, is what happens when you get bitten by a cat in the Sahara Desert and need to get a rabies vaccine! You’ll be fine but just be prepared for a heavy dose of mansplaining and potentially some perviness. Yay!

If you didn’t want to story time, here’s the quick guide:

Rabies in Morocco: What You Need to Know

  • Go to the closest hospital and ask for the vaccine. In French, it’s “vaccin antirabique” and “I was bitten by a cat” is “J’ai été mordu par un chat.”
  • Do not let anyone tell you it’s no big deal — see headlines above. Seriously, I don’t know how that Briton died from rabies when they’re so efficient with the vaccine here except that he was too polite to go against all the men telling him he’d be fine and not getting one soon enough. Imagine if we’d been typical, polite visitors who just said, “Oh, okay” when our guesthouse owner and his friend continued to insist we were fine?!
  • There are 3 rounds of shots. It’s two, one in each arm, the first round. Then a week later, one more shot, and then about 21 days later you get the 3rd one.
  • They’re free. As I said they’re free in Morocco. However, you may need to buy a syringe from the pharmacy.
  • Vaccines after exposure are still effective. There’s more info on the vaccine here, but you’re fine as long as you get the vaccine as soon as possible.

Actually quite easy right? So if you end up in a situation like us, hopefully this post is comforting, and you don’t absolutely freak out!

Have you ever needed to get a rabies vaccine abroad? Let me hear the stories!

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