For: Memorandum on Rabies Prevention and Control (April 2001)
Conducted for Department of HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES and PUBLIC SAFETY for NORTHERN IRELAND
Rabies is an acute viral infection of the central nervous system that is almost invariably fatal once symptoms develop. Although post-exposure treatment is available prior to symptoms, once symptoms develop there is no treatment. The infection is maintained in animal populations and transmitted to man primarily via the bite of an infected animal, or, rarely, through contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes.
Rabies in animals
Susceptibility and epidemiology
Rabies has been recorded in most warm-blooded animals, domesticated and wild, which become infected through contact with affected animals, usually carnivores. While all mammals are believed to be susceptible to rabies, the continued existence of the disease depends on a ‘lead’ vector species maintaining the virus within its own population. The disease may then be transmitted to other species and to man. Susceptibility is influenced by a variety of factors including the quantity and strain of the virus introduced, the transmission route, and the species of the recipient host.
Rabies in Great Britain
Great Britain has been free of rabies for most of this century; the last case of indigenous animal rabies occurring in 1922. The last recorded cases of rabies outside quarantine were in 1969 and 1970 when two imported dogs died after recently completing 6 months quarantine. Since 1970 there have been two dogs which have died in quarantine with evidence of rabies in the brain. Neither originated in Western Europe. The most recent case of rabies in Great Britain was a Daubenton's bat infected with European Bat Lyssavirus 2, found in Newhaven, Sussex, in May 1996. The country of origin of the bat is not known. No confirmed cases have previously been found in bats in Great Britain.
Because of the existence of the disease in Continental Europe and elsewhere there has been concern at the risk of rabies being reintroduced into Great Britain. The main threat of introduction of rabies is still from illegal importation of an infected carnivore (most likely a dog, cat or fox), or possibly a bat, arriving by commercial or private transport from any part of the world where rabies occurs. According to existing knowledge and experience, non-carnivores pose a very low risk.
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