World Rabies Day reminds pet importers of their responsibilities
Importers of animals as well as pet owners have a great responsibility for the safety of people and animals. Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) wish to remind on the World Rabies Day on Friday 28 September about the restrictions laid down for the import of animals as well as the significance of rabies control measures. Finland has been rabies-free since 1991, but the return of the disease is a real threat.
Rabies (human and animal rabies) is a lethal viral disease which can infect all mammals. Humans usually contract rabies through the bites of affected animals, most commonly dogs.
Import requirements and vaccinations protect both animals and people
When travelling with or importing an animal, it is important to comply with import requirements. Imported animals may carry rabies to Finland if they lack appropriate vaccinations. The risk of rabies is high if import requirements are not obeyed. This risk is particularly great if the animal’s background is unknown as is the case with e.g. rescue dogs and stray cats.
The vaccination of domestic animals and wild small predators is the most important weapon in Finland in the fight against rabies. Rabies vaccinations are compulsory for hunting dogs and K-9 dogs, and recommended for other pets. Free-range cats, in particular, should be vaccinated as they can come in contact with small predators and bats.
Rabies control has been successful in EU
Rabies control measures have been successful in the EU area and the number of cases is on the decrease. For example in Russia, on the other hand, the prevalence of rabies is still high.
Every year more than 55 000 people are reported worldwide to have died due to rabies. The disease kills especially children in Africa and Asia. Only part of the cases end up in the statistics, so the true figures are even higher. Most of the infections are caused by bites of unvaccinated rabid dogs and children are the most prone to be attacked by them. This should be borne in mind when travelling in countries where rabies is widespread.
Suspected rabies calls for urgent action
If a rabies infection is suspected, animal disease authorities and health care officials initiate tracing efforts and provide preventive care to the exposed people. According to THL, preventive vaccinations are given in Finland every year to 40–70 people due to rabies suspicion, because the infection is always fatal, if it reaches the symptomatic stage, but vaccine therapy started urgently after exposure will save the patient's life. Two thirds of the suspected exposures take place abroad. In 2007, a Philippine man died of rabies in Finland. He had contracted the infection through a dog bite in his home country.
What can you do?
- Obey the regulations that pertain to the travelling and importing of pets
- Have your pet vaccinated
- Consult your physician before travelling to a rabies area and avoid touching wild animals and unknown domestic animals
- If you suspect that your animal has rabies, contact the municipal veterinarian
- If an animal illegally imported from a rabies-endemic area bites you or 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 physician who will assess the need for vaccination therapy.
Rabies cases in Europe in 2011.
More information about the topic:
More information about import requirements to pet owners:
The media is asked to contact the following persons for more information:
- Marika Immonen, Senior Officer (pets travelling with passengers from non-EU countries), Evira, tel. +358 400 512 940
- Virva Valle, Senior Officer (import of animals), Evira, tel. +358 40 489 3359
- Marja Isomursu, Researcher (wild animals), Evira, tel. +358 40 512 1248
- Tiina Nokireki, Senior Researcher (rabies diagnostics), Evira, tel. +358 50 413 1687
- Ruska Rimhanen-Finne, veterinary epidemiologist (rabies surveillance), National Institute for Health and Welfare, tel. +358 29 524 8942, ruska.rimhanen-finne(at) thl.fi
- Eeva Ruotsalainen, specialist in infectious diseases (people exposed to rabies), Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa, tel. +358 50 427 9117