Rabies is a disease caused by rabies virus (a Lyssavirus). Classic rabies is a zoonosis (infection that could spread from animals to humans), and most animals are susceptible to it. The main reservoir is wild and domestic canids (dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes, dingoes, jackals). Six other Lyssaviruses are now recognised, whose potential of giving disease in humans is variable, and for which bats are the reservoir. Of these, two are present in Europe (European bat lyssavirus 1 and 2).
Transmission normally occurs through a bite or direct contact with the saliva of an infected animal. After an incubation period of 3–8 weeks (though sometimes much longer), non-specific symptoms appear, such as headache, fever and numbness of the skin around the site of the bite. A phase of seizures and eventually coma follows, which almost invariably lead to the patient’s death.
Prevention is possible by vaccination, including post-exposure immunisation to be given as soon after the exposure as possible. Preventive veterinary measures include proper vaccination of cats and dogs. Oral vaccination has proven effective in preventing the spread of disease within wild animal populations.
In the six years between 2006 and 2011 there were 12 cases in Europe in seven EU countries, of which 6 were imported. Sources of infection included exposure to rabid dog, cat or bat.
55 000 people a year die of rabies, the majority in Asia and Africa.
For more information on the global rabies situation please consult WHO website.