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.
What does Sciensano do?
To maintain the rabies indemnity status acquired in 2001, Sciensano’s Anti-rabies Centre has developed a surveillance network in conjunction with the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), the Regions and the veterinarians.
In addition to domestic animals and wild carnivores, particular attention is also paid to bats. With the agreement of the Regions, dead bats can be transported to Sciensano laboratory that will conduct a rabies diagnosis.
Finally, the Vaccine and Blood Product Quality Department is the Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL), which is responsible for the quality control of the rabies vaccines before they can be placed on the European market.
National Reference Centre
Sciensano hosts the National Reference Centre for rabies also known as the “Anti-rabies Centre”.
Every year, Sciensano’s Anti-rabies Centre checks the efficacy of anti-rabies vaccines in approximately 2,500 dogs and cats imported to Europe from countries outside of Europe or that are travelling from Europe to countries outside of Europe. Between the end of 1989 and 2000, a vaccination programme made it possible to eradicate rabies in foxes in Belgium.
Sciensano is the competent laboratory for diagnosing rabies in the event of a clinical suspicion in animals or humans.
Sciensano’s Anti-rabies Centre is competent to provide post-exposure treatment, that is to say a therapeutic vaccine for people who have been in contact with suspected rabid animals in regions of the world where rabies is endemic (Africa, Asia, etc.).
Every year, the centre treats one hundred people (between 80 and 160) with anti-rabies vaccines and sometimes also with anti-rabies antibodies (immunoglobulins) following an attack, bite, scratch or direct contact with a suspected rabid animal.
Every year, around 10 to 20 people are treated following contact with a bat.
The efficacy of vaccines against rabies
Sciensano’s Anti-rabies Centre is responsible for checking the efficacy of vaccines against rabies in humans and in around 2,500 dogs and cats imported to Europe or that are travelling to countries outside of Europe.
Checking the efficacy of the vaccines consists of testing serum samples to measure the antibodies produced by the animal or the vaccinated person.
Control of vaccines for rabies
Sciensano is the Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL) and is responsible for the quality control of the rabies vaccines before they can be placed on the European market. This control is carried out by the OMCL, independently of the vaccine manufacturer and for each batch separately. This control consists on the one hand of a critical review of the production data and quality analyses carried out by the vaccine manufacturer and on the other hand of additional analyses carried out by an OMCL. Thus, the Vaccine and Blood Product Quality Department performs various laboratory analyses according to the European Official Control Authority Batch Release (OCABR) guidelines. In addition, the Department also checks whether the production and quality data of the vaccine manufacturer are in conformity with the specifications as approved and recorded in the registration dossier. If a batch complies with all the quality criteria, the Department issues a certificate to the manufacturer, the so-called EU batch release certificate, and the vaccine may enter the European market.
Sciensano is no longer responsible for post-exposure treatment. It is now the responsibility of the Antirabies Center of the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM).