Risks and Severity

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.

Is there a risk of contracting rabies in Belgium?

Belgium has been free from fox (or vulpine) rabies since 2001. Cases of rabies in bats have not yet been detected in Belgium but are possible. 

The risk mainly applies to cases of canine rabies imported from a foreign country.

Consequently, in 2007 and 2008, two infected dogs that were imported illegally from Africa needed treatment following exposure to forty people.

It is therefore important to ensure that an animal that is brought back and imported from a trip has up-to-date vaccinations.

At-risk animals

The main animal vectors of the rabies virus are:

  • dogs (dogs imported illegally remain the main threat in Belgium) 
  • cats (imported illegally) 
  • foxes and other carnivorous species in endemic regions (not in Belgium)
  • bats

DID YOU KNOW? Bats can carry certain Lyssaviruses, related to the classic rabies virus, which are transmitted through a bite or a scratch. When this is transmitted to other mammals or humans, these viruses can also cause rabies. Luckily, the rate of transmission of the virus from bats to other species is infrequent, contrary to the rabies virus in carnivores. 

Death

Infection by the rabies virus must be treated within 48 hours following exposure, to avoid the appearance of the first symptoms and the death of the infected subject. Once the initial symptoms manifest, the disease is fatal in 100% of cases. 

 

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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