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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

World Rabies Day: ANSES remains active in the surveillance of this fatal disease which can be transmitted to humans

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News of 27/09/2013

On this occasion, ANSES recalls its commitment to the control in Europe of rabies, which is transmissible to humans, and its efforts to detect the introduction of new cases in France as early as possible. The Agency will also participate in the international seminar on "New concepts in rabies vaccines and vaccinology" co-organised with the Institut Pasteur, which will be held on 29-30 September 2013 in Annecy.

Rabies is a viral disease responsible for over 55 000 deaths each year worldwide. Although metropolitan France has been rabies-free since 2001, cases of canine rabies do occur sporadically due to the unlawful introduction into France of dogs incubating the disease (9 cases since 2001). The 2004 case of the female dog Tikki required the euthanasia of over 1400 dogs and cats and the prophylaxis and/or treatment of over 180 humans. This case, and the 8 others, proves the importance of quick action and constant vigilance with regard to rabies, in order to avoid human cases of the disease. The last human case in France actually occurred quite recently (2008), culminating in the death of an individual in Guyana, a French department in which rabies still exists. Moreover, rabies can still be found in foxes in Europe, with recent occurrences in Greece in 2012 and in Italy in 2009 and 2010.

In response to these challenges, rabies has been a major topic of interest for ANSES and the involvement of its risk evaluation departments and one of its 11 laboratories is proof of this commitment.

The Nancy Laboratory for Rabies and Wildlife

Since it was founded in 1972, ANSES’s Nancy Laboratory for Rabies and Wildlife has played a major role in the national system for rabies control. It has helped to eliminate the virus in France, and participates actively in European and international eradication plans. The laboratory also conducts research on the crossing of species barriers, and coordinates a rabies surveillance network for both domestic and wild animals.

As a National Reference Laboratory, it diagnoses rabies in animals which are not suspected to have contaminated humans.In addition to its national activities, the laboratory also plays a key role at the European level with two European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) mandates, for rabies and rabies serology. In this capacity, it actively participates in the development and the standardisation of diagnostic methods and serological rabies antibody titration tests for vaccinated animals. The laboratory is an official medicinal product inspection laboratory recognised by the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines. In this context and since its creation, it has been in charge of monitoring batches of veterinary anti-rabies vaccines prior to use. In response to these missions, in 2012 the laboratory analysed 404 samples from 206 bats and detected for the first time a new strain of lyssavirus in a Natterer's bat.

On the international level,the Nancy Laboratory for Rabies and Wildlife is the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reference laboratoryfor rabies. In this capacity, it provides expert appraisal and laboratory services which help to strengthen the capabilities of the national veterinary services and the safety of trade as well as providing assistance for rabies diagnosis and prophylaxis. It is also aWHO Collaborating Centre for zoonosis management and therefore participates in the development and application of guidelines related to rabies while providing scientific expert appraisal on methods for controlling animal rabies.

Assessment of health risks

The Expert Committee on animal health and its working groups were asked to provide risk assessment during the previous episodes of canine rabies reintroduction (in 2004 in Aquitaine and 2008 in Seine-et-Marne). In addition, they issued four opinions in 2009 and 2010 which were used as a basis for amending rabies regulations. Finally, they contributed to the drafting of a report entirely dedicated to rabies in bats which was published in 2003.

Information for professionals

While no cases of fox rabies have been reported in France since 1998 thanks to the effective oral fox vaccination campaigns implemented, rabies remains a threat in the country since canine cases do occur sporadically due to the unlawful introduction into France of dogs incubating the disease. This phenomenon is not new, but remains constant despite new European measures to control animals at the border. Vigilance with regard to rabies remains necessary, especially for veterinarians, physicians and diagnostic laboratories, since they are all essential links in the vigilance process. In this context, the Agency provides professionals with regularly-updated information and recommendations.

Participation in the "New Concepts in Rabies Vaccines & Vaccinology" seminar

In conjunction with World Rabies Day, the Nancy laboratory will participate in the seminar co-organised with the Institut Pasteur and held on September 29 & 30 entitled:


"New Concepts in Rabies Vaccines & Vaccinology"


Discussions with the stakeholders will focus on the science and current state of rabies in the world, while interfacing this exchange with regulations and industrial concerns.