Most of the following information has come from the website of the World Health Organization (WHO): http://www.who.int/
For more information, you can also consult the WHO Rabies Bulletin.
Rabies is an acute virus disease of the nervous system of mammals that is caused by a rhabdovirus (species Rabies virus of the genus Lyssavirus) usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal and that is characterised typically by increased salivation, abnormal behaviour, and eventual paralysis and death when untreated (source: Merriam-Webster dictionary). Rabies kills more than 70,000 people a year.
Cats and rabies
Various figures have been produced over the years. Here are some examples:
In 1999, the OIE stated that dogs are the animals most often affected by rabies and that more than 95% of human cases of rabies are due to bites from infected dogs.
In 2014, the WHO stated that in the Americas less than 5% of rabies cases in humans are from dogs. Most of them have been from bats instead.
It is a common belief that dogs are the animals most often affected by rabies, but some more recent studies estimate that currently there are more cases of cat rabies than dog rabies in the United States (nih.gov). This may be due to the fact that, because of their life habits, cats are more likely than dogs to come into contact with wild animals. Moreover, statistically cats are less often vaccinated than dogs, because in a lot of countries rabies vaccination is mandatory for dogs only.
Controlling rabies in cats
No data are available on the number of cats vaccinated against rabies in Europe, because often the vaccination is not mandatory. In the UK alone, it was estimated in 2013 that there were up to 5.7 million unvaccinated cats, although rabies is not found in the UK except in a small number of wild bats (NHS). Moreover, in several EU countries, there is an undetermined number of stray cats.
The control of rabies in cats is the same as with dogs. As with dogs, mass culling would be ineffective. The WHO conclusions on rabies in dogs can also be applied to cats:
Recommendations of the Expert Consultation on Rabies held in Geneva, October 2004 (TRS 931, WHO 2005) point out that:
· "Dog destruction alone is not effective in rabies control. There is no evidence that removal of dogs alone has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities or the spread of rabies. In addition, dog removal may be unacceptable to local communities. However, the targeted and humane removal of unvaccinated, ownerless dogs may be effective when used as a supplementary measure to mass vaccination.
· Mass canine vaccination campaigns have been the most effective measure for controlling canine rabies. High vaccination coverage (70% or higher) can be attained through comprehensive strategies consisting among others of well-designed educational campaigns, inter-sectoral cooperation, community participation, local commitment in planning and execution.
· Surveillance of rabies is the basis for any programme of rabies control. Veterinary surveillance of rabies and laboratory submission of reports of suspected animal cases is also essential for management of potential human exposures and for veterinarians to adopt appropriate measures towards animals in contact with a suspected animal case.
· Efforts should be made to fully incorporate rabies control activities in all levels of the health services, aligning them with other public health programmes such as the expanded programme on immunization and those for tuberculosis and vector-borne diseases".
According to the World Health Organization, rabies can be controlled only by systematic vaccination of humans and domestic animals.
Rabies in Europe
Asia and Africa are the continents with the highest incidence of rabies. Thanks to 50 years of intensive vaccination campaigns, Europe is today almost rabies-free (please see the WHO map below).
Here is the list of European Countries with rabies-free status:
NB: Slovakia was on the list but was removed in 2013 after the discovery of 6 rabies cases in foxes.
Please find here a very good presentation from Helene Klein (EU Commission, DG SANTE) on Rabies risk to the EU from dogs and cats introduced from endemic countries, including case studies: 2013112021_rabies_en
The EU and rabies
In the EU, seven countries are still not rabies-free: Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Moreover, some other countries have been rabies-free for only a short time. As in previous years, in 2013 the EU Commission validated a 10-year Programme of Monitoring, Control and Eradication of rabies in several countries. This programme is partially financed by the EU.
Here are the levels of EU financial participation in the relevant programmes (timeframe and State):
|Until 2014||Until 2015||Until 2016||Until 2018||Until 2019|
EUR 1 790 000 for Bulgaria
EUR 510 000 for Estonia
EUR 165 000 for Italy
EUR 2 600 000 for Lithuania
EUR 1 970 000 for Hungary
EUR 7 470 000 for Poland
EUR 5 500 000 for Romania
EUR 285 000 for Slovakia
EUR 3 210 000 for Greece
EUR 250 000 for Finland
EUR 1 225 000 for Latvia
EUR 1 700 000 for Croatia
|EUR 800 000 for Slovenia|
Rabies Control Tools
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has created useful tools:
- Canine Rabies Blueprint: Comprehensive guidance on implementing a rabies control and prevention programme
- Rabies Educator Certificate: Online course for people who want to raise awareness about rabies in their communities
- We also have an Animal Handler and Vaccinator Education Certificate online course which is just being launched, and that can also be accessed from the same link.