Disease: Rabies

Rabies Map, click for larger version

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals, which infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Rabies is transmitted through infected secretions, typically from bites.

An angry dog snarling
Dog bites are the most common form of transmission for rabies

Worldwide, rabies causes 30,000-70,000 human deaths a year, the majority of which are in Africa, Asia and South America. Most of these deaths are caused by dog bites. In Europe and North America deaths are relatively low (0-20 per year). Many countries, such as Australia, the British Isles (although occasional cases are recorded in bats), Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, parts of Scandinavia and Taiwan are rabies free; strict quarantine prevents new infections being brought into these countries.

Rabies animal cases in Europe
The occurrence of rabies in domestic and wild animals in Europe between 2002-2005 (data from WHO-Rabies Bulletin Europe).
Text description of this file is available on a separate page

Foxes are important vectors of rabies. As a consequence, a lot of research has been devoted to this topic. In the period 2002-2005, 12,548 animal cases of rabies were registered in Europe. For comparison, in the same period, 8 human cases were recorded. In Europe foxes and raccoon dogs (another member of the dog family) are the principle vectors, accounting for 47-58% and 18-24% respectively, of diagnosed cases in initial outbreaks. Domestic animals represented 20% of all rabies cases.

Rabies animal cases in USA
The occurrence of rabies in domestic and wild animals in USA between 2002-2005 (data from JAVMA).
Text description of this file is available on a separate page

In North America, raccoons and skunks are the commonest vectors. In the period 2002-2005, 28,826 animal cases and 15 human cases of rabies were recorded in the USA. Domestic animals represented only 8% of all recorded cases of rabies but bats accounted for 19% of all cases.

In the 1940s, a rabies outbreak in Poland spread outwards south and west across Europe. In a few locations, fox culling may have stopped the spread, but the progress of the outbreak was eventually halted by extensive baiting with oral vaccine. In North America, rabies spread from north to south. Unlike in Europe, rabies is still present in many areas, but again vaccination campaigns using bait have been successful in cities such as Toronto, Canada.

Question & answer

TopWhat is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals.

TopHow is rabies transmitted?

It is generally transmitted through bites of a rabid animal, but can be transmitted in aerosols as in bat caves.

TopHow can I protect my pet from rabies?

If you live in a rabies-free country (Australia, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, parts of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom) you need to consider the risks of travelling abroad with your pet. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) have very useful resources about rabies, including questions & answers sections and recommendations for travellers (WHO, CDC) and pet travelling schemes (WHO, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, UK).

References

  • Bellamy, R. & Salmon, R. (1999) Risk of importation of diseases exotic to Great Britain following the relation of quarantine regulations. Quarterly Journal of Medicine 92, 683-687.
  • Blanton, J.D., Krebs, J.W., Hanlon, C.A. & Rupprecht, C.E. (2006) Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2005. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 229, 1897-1911.
  • Finnegan, C., Brookes, S., Johnson, N., Smith, J., Mansfield, K.L., Keene, V.L., McElhinney, L.M. & Fooks, A.R. (2002) Rabies in North America and Europe. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 95, 9-13.
  • Krebs, J.W., Mandel, E.J., Swerdlow, D.L. & Rupprecht, C.E. (2005) Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2004. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 227, 1912-1925.
  • Krebs, J.W., Mandel, E.J., Swerdlow, D.L. & Rupprecht, C.E. (2004) Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2003. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 225, 1837-1949.
  • Krebs, J.W., Wheeling, J.T. & Childs, J.E. (2003) Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2002. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 223, 1736-1748.
  • Rabies-Bulletin-Europe 2007 available at: www.who-rabies-bulletin.org
  • Wandeler, A.I. (2004) Epidemiology and ecology of fox rabies in Europe. In: Historical perspective of rabies in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin (Eds A.A. King, A.R. Fooks, M. Aubert & A.I. Wandeler). World Organisation for Animal Health, France.