Keeping Finland free from rabies - World Rabies Day on 28 September 2010


<p>Rabies (human and animal rabies) is a lethal viral disease of the central nervous system that generally infects mammals via animal bites, and can spread from animals to people. Rabies is still commonly present in the world. More than 55 000 people are estimated to die every year as a result of rabies, mostly in Africa and Asia. People are usually infected with rabies after having been bitten by a sick animal, typically a dog.</p>

Endemic rabies still occurs in many countries in Eastern Europe where disease cases have alarmingly been becoming more common. Recently the disease has also spread into European countries that have previously been free from rabies, e.g. in the north-eastern parts of Italy.

However, in many European countries the systematic fight against this disease has been efficient and fewer cases of rabies in wild animals have also resulted in fewer cases among domestic animals. The vaccination of domestic animals and small predators is the most important method for the prevention of rabies.

Finland has been rabies free since early 1990s

Finland has been fighting rabies with determined efforts for decades. The most recent cases of endemic rabies were found in Finland in 1988 and 1989 when the disease crossed the country’s borders and infected mostly foxes and raccoon dogs in south-eastern Finland. The disease was eradicated through bait vaccination campaigns of wild animals. Finland has been rabies free since 1991. The objective is to keep the country free from the disease also in the future. The rabies-free status is not affected by either the rabies found in a bat in Finland in 2009 or the previously observed sporadic cases in imported animals.

Rabies is fought through vaccinations and analyses of suspicious cases

Vaccinations are used as the means to prevent wild animals from bringing rabies to Finland. Each spring and autumn some 80 000 vaccine baits are spread along the south-eastern border for raccoon dogs and foxes. Evira is in charge of the spreading of the vaccines. Russia has also vaccinated small predators on their side of the border in cooperation with Finland

Evira regularly carries out rabies analyses on wild animals and other animals displaying suspicious symptoms. Any sightings of strangely behaving wild foxes, raccoon dogs, wolves and other predators should be reported to the municipal or provincial veterinary officer. Samples of small predators delivered by hunters are necessary for controlling the rabies-free status of the country. Evira also investigates dead and suspiciously behaving bats for rabies.

Vaccinate your pets

Dogs used in burrow hunting are to be vaccinated against rabies each year, and other hunting dogs and official working dogs at least every two years. Evira further recommends regular vaccination of all pet dogs and cats in Finland.

Obey regulations on pet imports

Imported dogs and cats may carry rabies to Finland if they lack vaccinations. Depending on the country of origin, dogs, cats and ferrets imported to Finland are required to have been vaccinated, or to have been vaccinated and tested for sufficient antibody levels.

The risk of rabies is significant if the regulations are not obeyed when importing a dog or a cat from a country with endemic rabies. This risk is particularly great if the animal’s background is unknown as is the case with rescue dogs, or stray dogs and cats. In worst cases, the import of such animals into Finland may also threaten the health of the owner and their family and friends.

What should travellers know about rabies?

Persons about to travel to an area where rabies is prevalent should contact their own health care centre, occupational health care or a private clinic for health counselling prior to their trip. In addition to the prevalence of the disease, rabies risk is affected by how often and how much the traveller comes into contact with animals in the destination and how well health care professionals in the destination are aware of the disease status in the area and what their resources are for providing appropriate care in the destination. Travellers should avoid all contact with wild animals and unknown domestic animals in areas where rabies is prevalent.

The Infectious Disease Register maintained by the Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare received in 2000-2005 a total of 79 reports of travel-related cases where rabies was suspected in patients treated because an animal had bitten them or licked broken skin or mucous membranes. Proper vaccine regimen started immediately after exposure will save the patient in every case. If symptoms have already manifested themselves, the disease will result in death in a few days.

For more information, please contact:
Miia Jakava-Viljanen, Section Head, Veterinary Virology Research Unit, Evira
tel. +358 (0) 2077 24587, +358 (0) 50 351 0308

Virva Valle, Senior Officer (animal import), Animal Health and Welfare Unit, Evira
tel. +358 (0) 2077 24309, +358 (0) 40 489 3359

Marja Isomursu, Researcher, Fish and Wildlife Health Research Unit, Evira
tel. +358 (0) 2077 24910, +358 (0) 40 512 1248

Service phone for advice on animal imports and exports: +358 (0) 20 690 991 (9 am. to 11 am.), e-mail

Ruska Rimhanen-Finne, Veterinay epidemiologist, Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare, Epidemiologic Surveillance and Response Unit
tel. +358 (0) 2061 08942, +358 (0) 40 480 2855,

More information on the Internet:

World Rabies Day

Prevalence of rabies in the world and infection risk areas (WHO)

Human rabies (in Finnish)

Health guide for travellers (in Finnish)

Rabies found in a human in Finland, 2007

Rabies outburst in Bali (Comments by a specialist in infectious diseases, Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare) (in Finnish)  

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