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RABIES could sneak back into US despite strict vaccine regulations, CDC warns, after five-month-old rescue puppy that met import requirements from Azerbaijan tests positive for virus
- Rabies was eradicated in the U.S. in 2003, but has been detected five times in animal imports across the previous 15 years
- Last year a puppy tested positive for the virus barely three days after arriving with its foster family in Pennsylvania following a flight from Azerbaijan
- The dog had started biting the air, hypersalivating and had become agitated
- It was later put down after suffering seizures and a cardiac arrest
- Blood tests revealed eight out of 34 animals imported in this shipment were not properly vaccinated against rabies
- CDC officials now say all animal imports from high-risk countries should have their blood tested to confirm they have got the rabies vaccine
Rabies could be re-imported into the U.S. due to improper vaccinations, health officials warned Thursday, after a five-month-old rescue puppy from Azerbaijan tested positive for the virus last year despite meeting import requirements.
The disease — which triggers seizures and frothing at the mouth — was eradicated in the U.S. in 2003, but has re-entered five times over the last 15 years.
Last year’s case where a puppy fell ill just three days after arriving with its adopted family in Pennsylvania was blamed on faulty paperwork.
The animal was certified to have been inoculated against rabies in Azerbaijan, but testing revealed it and seven others out of the 33 dogs and one cat brought across the border had not been fully vaccinated.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials imposed a ban on importing dogs from 109 high-risk countries last year — including four in eastern Europe.
But it is due to expire later this year, with the CDC calling for blood tests to be put in place at ports to confirm all imported animals from high-risk areas are vaccinated.
Rabies is passed on through the bites of infected animals. It is fatal in virtually every case without treatment, with victims symptoms progressing from a fever to seizures in days.
CDC officials are warning that rabies could be re-imported into the United States. There is no suggestion that the above puppy has rabies
The warning was revealed in a scientific paper published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC.
Lead author Dr Florence Whitehill, an animal diseases expert at the CDC, and colleagues said: ‘A requirement for rabies vaccination certificates alone will not adequately identify improper vaccination practices or fraudulent paperwork and is insufficient as a stand-alone rabies importation prevention measure.
‘[Blood] testing of animals from high-risk countries and electronic reporting of results directly from prequalified laboratories before arrival in the United States should be considered to mitigate the risk of importing [rabies].’
Rabies: Death from a scratch
Rabies is a viral infection which targets the nervous system and the brain.
It is deadly in almost every case left untreated — and has an incubation period of 20 to 60 days.
It is only spread by infected animals to humans, most often through the animal biting or scratching the person.
It can also be spread by an animal’s saliva being in contact with a graze or cut on a human’s skin. The majority of rabies cases result from being bitten by an infected dog.
The symptoms of the illness include high temperatures, numbness at the area where the bite occurred and hallucinations. Some victims also have hydrophobia, which is a fear of water.
There are about 55,000 cases of rabies worldwide each year with over 95 percent occurring in Africa and Asia. Half of all rabies cases occur in India.
Every year, more than 29 million people worldwide receive a post-bite vaccination. This is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually.
In the latest case, the puppy arrived at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on June 10 of last year and was sent to an adoptive family.
Three days later it started biting invisible objects, hypersalivating, and suffering from agitation.
The animal was taken to the vets, where it suffered seizures and experienced a cardiac arrest. It was put down later the same day.
A total of 37 people who were exposed to the animal — including airport workers, vets and its adoptive family — were screened for the virus.
A total of 15 people were given the drug rabies postexposure prophylaxis as a precaution, in case they had been infected.
None later came down with rabies, which has an incubation time of 20 to 60 days.
Blood tests revealed seven other animals on the shipment — all dogs — had not been adequately vaccinated against rabies by the time they arrived.
The unvaccinated animals were moved into strict quarantine for four to six months to ensure they did not have the virus.
The other 25 were put in 45-day at-home quarantine as a precaution in case they were exposed to the virus.
None later developed an infection.
Animals are considered vaccinated against rabies from 28 days after receiving their initial jab.
But in some cases — like with these animals — if a too small initial dose is given the vaccine may not spark immunity.
Rescue workers in Azerbaijan blamed a veterinary intern for the improper vaccinations, who they said was in charge of rabies jabs at the time.
They added that a review revealed ‘numerous’ rabies vials containing a higher than expected residual amount of vaccine.
Last year America reported five deaths from rabies — its highest tally in a decade.
Four of these were down to contact with bats, while one was due to being bitten by an infected dog.
This was more than the last four years combined, when only three deaths from the virus had been reported.
The CDC said the deaths were tragic and the majority of them could have been prevented by a series of quick injections. Three of the infected persons refused the shots.