Make sure your pet is vaccinated against rabies – 28 September 2011 is the World Rabies Day


<p>Rabies has been detected near Finland, in the Russian Karelia, for the first time in decades. Rabies (human and animal rabies) is a lethal viral disease of the central nervous system that generally infects mammals via animal bites, and can be transmitted from animals to humans.</p>

The disease is on the global level maintained primarily by three animal populations: dogs, small predators and bats. More than 55 000 people are estimated to die every year as a result of rabies, mostly in Africa and Asia. Not all the cases are reported, so the true figure is even higher. People are usually infected with rabies after having been bitten by a sick animal, most typically a dog.

Endemic rabies still occurs in many countries in Eastern Europe. Recently the disease has also spread into European countries that have previously been free from rabies, such as the north-eastern parts of Italy. In the Russian Karelia, rabies was found on the last week of August this year in a cow grazing outdoors. The area lies some 150 km from the Finnish border. Rabies has not been found in Russia at such a close distance of Finland in more than 20 years. In many European countries, the systematic fight against this disease has been effective 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.

 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 vaccine baits are distributed along the south-eastern border for racoon dogs and foxes. Evira is in charge of the distribution of the baits. Russia has also vaccinated small predators on their side of the border in cooperation with Finland. Due to the rabies cases that have occurred in the Russian Karelia, the distribution area will be expanded this year in Finland to cover a 40-kilometre wide zone, which extends also into the area of the municipalities of Joensuu and Ilomantsi.

Evira 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 supplied by hunters are necessary for controlling the rabies-free status of the country. It is particularly important that hunters send small predators from the vaccine distribution area to the Oulu Regional Office of Evira. Any animals found dead or put down due to their symptoms in other parts of the country should also be sent in for an analysis. Evira also investigates dead and suspiciously behaving bats for rabies.

Vaccinate your pet

Dogs used to hunt cave animals shall be vaccinated every year and other hunting dogs as well as K-9 dogs every two years. Evira further recommends that even dogs and cats that never leave Finland be kept on a regular vaccination schedule. The rabies case found in Russian Karelia increases the risk of the disease propagating also to Finland and for this reason it is important that all dogs and free ranging cats are vaccinated against rabies, particularly in Eastern Finland.

Obey regulations on travelling pets and pet imports

Imported dogs and cats may carry rabies to Finland if they lack appropriate vaccinations. Depending on the country of origin, dogs, cats and ferrets imported to Finland are required to have been vaccinated e.g. against rabies, 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.

Seek advice before travelling to rabies-endemic areas

If you are planning to travel to a rabies-endemic area, contact your own health care centre, occupational health care or a private clinic. Avoid all contact with wild animals and unknown domestic animals in the destination area.

In 1995–2006, a total of 195 suspected cases of rabies in which vaccination treatment had been given were reported to the Infectious Diseases Register of the National Institute for Health and Welfare. In most cases (69%), the suspected contraction of the infection had taken place abroad. None of the patients who received vaccination treatment became infected with rabies.

Seek medical advice immediately, if you suspect rabies infection

 If you are bitten by a bat or an illegally imported or wild animal from a rabies-endemic area or it licks broken skin on you, follow these instructions:

  • clean the wound with plenty of water and soap for 15 minutes
  • disinfect the wound with an antiseptic; use 70% alcohol, if possible
  • contact a doctor who will assess the need for vaccination treatment. Appropriate vaccination treatment started immediately after exposure will save the patient every time.
  • if you have been vaccinated against rabies in your travel destination, make sure the vaccination schedule is completed when you are back in Finland

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 1988–1989, when wild animals carried the disease across the country’s borders. It mostly infected foxes and racoon 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 that no cases of rabies are found in Finland and that the country is kept officially 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. The European bat rabies virus found in Finland can be transmitted to humans, but this is extremely rare.

For more information, please contact:
Tiia Tuupanen, Senior Officer (anti-rabies efforts), Animal Health and Welfare Unit, Evira tel. +358 20 77 24268, +358 40 489 3348

Tiina Nokireki, Senior Researcher (rabies diagnostics), Animal Virology Research Unit, Evira, tel. +358 20 77 24573, +358 50 413 1687

Tiina-Mari Aro, Senior Officer (import of animals), Animal Health and Welfare Unit, Evira, tel. +358 20 77 24217, +358 40 489 3322

Virva Valle, Senior Officers (import of animals), Animal Health and Welfare Unit, Evira, tel. +358 20 77 24309, +358 40 489 3359

Marja isomursu, Researcher (wild animals), Production and Wild Animal Health Research Unit, Evira, tel. +358 20 77 24910, +358 40 512 1248

Information telephone on import and export of animals (Evira): +358 20 690 991 (between 9 am. and 11 am.), e-mail ehyt at-merkki.gif : 1Kb

Ruska Rimhanen-Finne, Veterinary epidemiologist, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Epidemiologic Surveillance and Response Unit, tel. +358 20 61 08942, +358 40 480 2855, ruska.rimhanen-finne at-merkki.gif : 1Kb

Further information online:
World Rabies Day

Incidence of rabies and infection risk area (WHO)

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