Rabies is a deadly viral disease if it is not treated in time. A rabies vaccine nevertheless provides effective protection.
Because the virus is transmitted by infected animals, rabies is what is called a zoonosis. Today globally eradicated in France, the rabies virus was particularly widespread in wild carnivores (fox, badger, marten) and bats which in turn infected domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats, horses, dogs and cats).
In wild animals, foxes were the main vector of rabies, and humans could contract the virus mainly through infected dog or cat bites.
In France and a majority of European countries, effective eradication measures, including the immunization of foxes in the form of baits (containing the vaccine), have largely controlled rabies in wild and domestic animals. In fact, only really bats are still likely to transmit rabies.
However, in some countries in south-eastern Europe and many other countries outside Europe, rabies is still a concern. In these regions, the risk of contracting rabies remains relatively high: still today, rabies would make more than 50, 000 victims a year in the world, especially in Africa and Asia. And these are just the official figures to which must be added the undiscovered or undeclared cases. When traveling abroad, it is important to consider this increased risk of rabies in some countries.
If the risk of human contamination is very minimal in France today, rabies remains a hot topic. Because some cases of human rage have appeared in recent years. These are then isolated cases and generally linked to an "importation" of the virus following:
- the illegal introduction of an unvaccinated domestic animal from a region where rabies exists, or
- a trip to a country at risk of rabies.
If the probability of a new introduction of rabies in France is rather low, this risk remains real.
Once the virus contracted, the incubation period, that is, the time until rabies begins, may vary. On average, the first symptoms of rabies appear between 3 and 8 weeks after infection.
Once the disease has started with its first symptoms, rabies is no longer curable : paralysis gradually settles down and inevitably leads to death. In most cases, however, it is possible to prevent the onset of the disease if measures are taken immediately after the bite (eg active and passive immunization).
A prophylactic vaccination against rabies is recommended in man quite exceptionally, when there is a risk of contact with the virus, for example in case of an extended trip in a country at risk rabies, or when a no one is engaged in a trade potentially exposing him to the rabies virus.
Rabies is subject to a mandatory declaration at the town hall and veterinary health services. Vaccination against rabies in domestic animals is not generally recommended in France, except for certain breeds of dogs. As, it is detailed further, in case of bite by a dog, precautions must be taken to ensure that the animal is not carrying the virus of rabies.
Authors: Dorothee Gebele, Dr. Nicolas Evrard.