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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

World Rabies Day, ANSES reiterates the importance of vigilance

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News of 28/09/2011

28 September 2011

On the occasion of World Rabies Day, ANSES recalls its efforts to combat rabies and stresses the importance of vigilance with respect to this animal disease, which is transmissible to humans, in order to detect the introduction of new cases in France as early as possible.
Although no case of fox rabies has been reported in France since 1998, owing to the effectiveness of oral vaccination campaigns that have succeeded in eradicating rabies in this animal population, our territory is still threatened by the disease. Cases of canine rabies appear sporadically due to the illegal importation into France of dogs incubating rabies. This phenomenon is not new, but is growing, despite new European border control measures for animals(1). Vigilance with respect to this animal disease, which is transmissible to humans, is therefore needed, especially among veterinarians, physicians and laboratories responsible for diagnosis, all of which are essential links in this vigilance chain.

To provide these stakeholders with all the information they need to be on guard against the disease, ANSES's Nancy Laboratory for Rabies and Wildlife (the European Union Reference Laboratory) plans to organise information campaigns for them in 2012.

For the record, rabies is an animal disease transmissible to humans (zoonosis), caused by a virus. Found in the saliva of infected animals, sometimes even before the onset of the first symptoms, the virus is mainly transmitted to another animal or human by a bite. The saliva of a rabid animal in contact with a skin wound or mucous membrane may also cause contamination. According to the World Health Organization, rabies causes about 55,000 deaths per year worldwide, mainly in developing countries, with most human cases resulting from contamination by rabid dogs found or originating in areas of animal epidemics.

What is ANSES doing about rabies?

A specialist in animal rabies, the ANSES Nancy Laboratory for rabies and wildlife has played a major role in the French rabies surveillance system over the last 40 years. As National Reference Laboratory, this ANSES entity diagnoses rabies in animals that have not infected humans and is also head of the national network for surveillance and monitoring of bat infections by the rabies virus. As part of these missions, it analysed 413 samples in 2009, including 279 from bats, and 280 samples in 2010, of which 202 were from bats.

In addition to these national activities, the laboratory also plays a major role at the European level with two European Reference Laboratory mandates for rabies and rabies serology. As such, it provides technical and scientific support to national reference laboratories in the other Member States, improves and harmonises the techniques used in rabies diagnosis and control, conducts research mainly aiming to characterise the strains collected within the Union, and finally, implements monitoring and information activities aimed at the national laboratories of the other Member States of the European Commission.
The Nancy laboratory is also responsible for assessing the performance of laboratories in the world that issue certificates confirming, after serological examination, the effectiveness of vaccination for dogs and cats travelling to rabies-free countries where quarantine measures have been reduced (2).
At the international level, the ANSES Nancy Laboratory for rabies and wildlife is the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) Reference Laboratory for rabies, and as such actively helps develop and standardise diagnostic methods.
It is also a WHO Collaborating Centre for management of zoonoses and contributes to developing and implementing guidelines for rabies and provides scientific expertise on animal-rabies control methods.
Finally, the laboratory also conducts research to assess the pathogenicity of viruses circulating in bats in France for domestic carnivores and foxes.
In terms of risk assessment, the Expert Committee on Animal Health and its working groups were consulted during previous episodes of reintroduced canine rabies (2004 in Aquitaine, 2008 in Seine-et Marne). In addition, in 2009 and 2010 they issued four opinions which were used during the revision of regulations on rabies. Finally, they helped the Agency produce a report exclusively on rabies in bats which was published in 2003.

(1) Decree of 20 May 2005 and European Regulation (EC) No 998/2003
(2) For animals from third countries where rabies is not controlled (countries not listed in Annex 2 of European Regulation (EC) No 998/2003) coming to the European Union; and those moving between Member States going to the territories of Malta, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, vaccination and serological testing are mandatory.
For animals from countries listed in Annex 2 of European Regulation (EC) No 998/2003 and those moving between Member States (excluding Malta, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom), only the rabies vaccination is mandatory.

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