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.

When should rabies be suspected?

Rabies can be suspected in people presenting with:

  • symptoms of encephalitis 
  • a history of having been bitten by a suspected rabid animal in an infected geographical zone 
  • or following contact with a bat.

A disease that is impossible to diagnose prior to the initial symptoms

The symptoms can appear one week or a number of years after exposure. During this period, the virus is not yet detectable and it is impossible to diagnose the infection. 

Furthermore, without a bite-mark, or specific signs of hydrophobia or aerophobia, the clinical diagnosis can prove difficult. 

It is therefore detection of the virus that allows the diagnosis to be confirmed.

The tests that make it possible to identify the presence of the rabies virus in the saliva, the urine or the infected tissue (skin, cerebrospinal fluid, cornea, brain after death) are only conducted by specialized laboratories such as the National Reference Centre for Rabies, within Sciensano. 



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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