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.

Rabies in Belgium

  • Every year the Sciensano’s Anti-rabies Centre treats between 80 and 160 people with anti-rabies vaccines and sometimes with anti-rabies antibodies (immunoglobulins).
  • Every year, 10 to 20 people are treated following contact with a bat.
  • The last case of rabies of vulpine origin was recorded in 1999, in a bovine in Bastogne.
  • No case of indigenous animal rabies has been diagnosed in Belgium since 1999.
  • Belgium has been recognised as being free from fox (or vulpine) rabies since 2001.
  • Foxes have not presented a danger since 2001 and bats are under high surveillance.
  • No case of bat rabies has been detected in Belgium to date.

Since the eradication of rabies in Belgium and its indemnity status obtained in 2001, 2 cases of imported canine rabies have been recorded:

  • a dog imported from Morocco in 2007 (41 people treated with the anti-rabies vaccine, contact with another animal resulted in the latter having to be put down and a lot of other animals were vaccinated as a preventative measure and placed under observation by the FASFC)
  • a dog imported from the Gambia in 2008.

These 2 cases of imported canine rabies caused Belgium to lose its rabies indemnity status for 6 months.

Thanks to intensive surveillance of the 2 cases of rabies, no secondary case was detected and Belgium managed to reclaim its indemnity status 6 months after each of these importation incidents.

Rabies in Europe

  • There is a relatively small number of human victims in Europe (1-10 cases each year). Often these victims were infected on other continents where rabies is endemic.
  • Indigenous cases of rabies in humans still appear from time to time in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia.
  • Since the seventies, approximately 4-5 people have died due to rabies contracted through contact with an infected bat on European soil.

Rabies worldwide

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Rabies affects over 150 countries and territories in the world.
  • Over 55,000 people die from rabies each year, worldwide.
  • Every year, over 15 million people in the world are vaccinated following a bite, which is estimated to prevent hundreds of millions of deaths each year.
  • Everywhere in the world, fatal cases in humans following contact with a fox, a raccoon, a skunk, a jackal, a mongoose or other wild carnivorous species are very rare.
  • Rabies is still present on a large scale in Eastern Europe, in Turkey and in Northern Africa (dogs and wild animals, such as the fox, the raccoon dog and the bat).
  • In Africa, and Asia, and to a lesser extent in South America, rabies is more wide-spread and a lot of dogs are also infected.
  • In the Americas region, most cases of human rabies originate from bats.

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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