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.
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.