Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted from animals to humans. When symptoms appear, and without immediate treatment, rabies is fatal in 100% of cases. It can be avoided thanks to vaccination. In Belgium, the main threat still comes from the illegal importation of dogs from infected countries.

How is the rabies virus transmitted?

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted by a virus from the Rhabdoviridae family. 

The virus is transmitted from animals to humans (zoonosis). Infected animals transmit the virus through: 

  • a bite or deep scratch
  • a scratch
  • licking a wound
  • saliva coming into contact with a wound or the mucous membranes. 

The transmission from animals to humans can also occur through an open wound on the skin. 

In rare cases, rabies can be contracted by inhaling an aerosol containing the virus or when an infected organ is transplanted. 

According to the WHO, the consumption of raw meat or other animal tissue affected by rabies is not a source of infection for humans.

DID YOU KNOW? After coming into contact with a suspected rabid animal, the skin should be cleaned immediately with soap and water followed by vaccine therapy and sometimes immunoglobulins. These measures can save a person's life.

Is inter-human transmission possible?

According to the WHO, transmission between humans through a bite is theoretically possible but has never been confirmed.

Which animals can transmit rabies?

In Belgium and in the majority of countries in Western and Northern Europe, illegally imported dogs remain the greatest threat because they are the main host and carrier of the rabies virus in a large part of the rest of the world (in particular in Africa and Asia). 

In Belgium, foxes have not posed a risk since 2001. 

Bats are under strict surveillance and no case of rabies has ever been detected in these animals in Belgium.

However, the presence of the virus in bats that is related to the rabies virus cannot be excluded in Belgium.

Fatal cases in humans following contact with a raccoon, a skunk, a jackal, a mongoose or other wild carnivorous species are very rare.

In certain countries in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, rabies is still present in wild carnivores such as the fox and the raccoon dog.



Sciensano provides epidemiological surveillance of rabies in Belgium and takes responsibility for diagnosis and treatment following exposure. It monitors the efficacy of vaccines against rabies. The Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL) of Sciensano, together with the European OMCL network, is responsible for the quality control of the rabies vaccine prior to marketing.

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