The risk of rabies introduction into Sweden
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The aim of this study was to present Sweden as a rabies free country and the risks of introducing the disease with the new less restrictive system of importation of pet animals. Rabies is a lethal zoonotic disease that is caused by a Lyssavirus. The virus is transmitted through bites from rabid animals and is secreted through the saliva. It is then spread from the infection site through the central nervous system. When symptoms are developed, the disease is always lethal. Rabies can be prevented by avoiding contact with different warm-blooded animals as well as with immunization. Rabies is present throughout the world, but the epidemiology varies according to which animal is the primary host, also the genotype and the extent of the virus varies. To protect Sweden from importation of a rabid animal it is important with special import-requirements like vaccination against rabies. The disease has been eradicated in Sweden since 1886 and it is a notifiable disease. It is obligatory to report cases of rabies suspicion. The requirements of importing dogs and cats into the Swedish border have changed during the last years. When Sweden entered the European Union in 1994, the six months quarantine system was dismantled. Instead of having quarantine a serological antibody titre test was introduced, post vaccination. This made it much easier for people to travel with their dogs and cats within the European Union. Depending on which country the pet would be in before entering Sweden, the rules were different. The quarantine was not dismantled from all countries, but the exceptional countries also changed by the years that passed. The present system which has been in force since January this year only requires identification of the pet, passport and rabies vaccination. This is true if entering from one of the listed groups of countries. If travelling from a non-listed group of country the neutralizing antibody titration test is valid, instead of the quarantine system that was in use before. Different factors associated with the antibody titre of after a rabies vaccination of dogs have been studied in a research article published in 2011. The two allowed rabies vaccines in Sweden (Nobivac ® Rabies Vet and Rabisin ® Vet.) were compared, and also the waiting period as well as the number of primary vaccination (one or two) were analyzed. Moreover, also the gender, age and size of the dogs were analyzed. Risk assessments have been carried out in different ways in order to assess whether the abandoning the serological response would increase the risk of introducing rabies to Sweden. Both a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), on demand of the Community, as well as risk assessments done by the National Veterinary Institute have been carried out. The EFSAs conclusions were that an animal reduces the risk of being infected with rabies gradually, with a longer waiting period. Therefore a waiting period is an effective way to decrease the risk of rabies introduction to a rabies free country. Through serology and detection of seronegative pets, the risk of rabies introduction can further be decreased. Additionally, the same or even a better risk reduction can be achieved by a second vaccination 4-6 weeks after the first one. The risk assessments done by the National Veterinary Institute dealt with questions concerning the risk of introducing rabies to Sweden, both through legally and illegally imported dogs. The probability of introducing rabies to Sweden depends on the country of origin. Import of pets from countries with endemic rabies comprises a higher risk compared to Swedish pets temporarily living in such country. The risk is also increased with the increased number of imported animals. However, the probability of introducing rabies into Sweden through legally imported dogs from other European countries is extremely low according to this study. Two important factors must be taken into consideration for the risk with the illegally imported dogs. First of all, it is unknown how many dogs are imported illegally and second of all, also the country the dogs being imported from are unknown. These two factors have a great influence on the result of the probability of introducing rabies to Sweden through illegally imported dogs. But even under these circumstances the risk is judged to be extremely low.