- Category: Environmental health
- Last Updated: 10 October 2016
- What is rabies? .
- In which countries am I most at risk? .
- What are the symptoms? .
- How can I avoid rabies? .
- Pet travel scheme .
Rabies is an encephalitis, or brain disease, which is caused by the rabies virus. It is a fatal condition caused by being bitten by an infected animal, usually a rabid dog or a bat.
There is a vaccination against the disease, but once symptoms of rabies have developed the condition is almost always fatal - and the few people who have survived have suffered serious long-term disabilities.
Rabies is a notifiable disease. If you suspect signs of any notifiable disease, you must immediately notify a Defra Divisional Veterinary Manager.
Most countries of the world have rabies and there are only a few, including Britain, the Antarctic and Australia, which have been declared rabies free but anyone bitten by a bat in the UK should still seek medical advice.
Travelling in developing countries is the most risky, particularly the more remote areas, as clinics do not always have supplies of the vaccine. The vaccine can be successful after a person has been bitten, if it is taken early enough.
Rabies affects the central nervous system. Initial symptoms can include anxiety, headaches and fever. As the condition progresses the patient will have spasms of their swallowing muscles, a fear of water and respiratory failure will set in.
Travellers going to countries where rabies is endemic are advised to have the rabies vaccine. This is a safe and effective jab. Anyone who is bitten or scratched by a warm blooded animal in a country with rabies should consider obtaining the vaccine
Travellers abroad are advised to steer clear of animals, particularly stray or unattended dogs.
For further information and advice please visit the Health Protection Agency website.
The importation rules require that pets imported into the United Kingdom ( UK ) are quarantined in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ( DEFRA ) approved facilities for six months in order to keep the UK free from rabies and certain other diseases. However, there are some exemptions to these rules under a scheme called the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS).
PETS allows pet dogs (including guide and hearing dogs), cats and ferrets from designated countries to enter the UK without quarantine as long as they meet the scheme rules. The scheme also means that UK residents can take their pets to the designated countries and return to the UK without quarantine.
The PETS rules include a requirement to have pets vaccinated for rabies and to have a pet passport.
Please visit the GOV.UK website for more detailed information.