Skip to main content

Rabies Incident

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

I would like to update the House on the case of rabies in a puppy in UK quarantine confirmed last Friday evening, 25 April.

Over three successive days, thirteen dogs of various ages were brought into quarantine under UK rabies quarantine licensing rules from Sri Lanka by an animal rescue charity. The dogs were not in good health when they arrived and were receiving appropriate veterinary treatment at the quarantine facility. The condition of one of the dogs, a puppy, worsened and it died on the morning of 25 April. It was immediately sent for routine testing at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Weybridge. The acting chief veterinary officer then confirmed on the evening of 25 April a case of rabies in this puppy.

The case was confined to quarantine, which means that the movement of the puppy after arrival in the country was fully controlled and any public health risks were effectively contained. Nevertheless, our contingency plans for such an occurrence were immediately activated and a thorough investigation instigated. Since rabies is a public health issue, the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency also immediately mobilised their emergency arrangements.

DEFRA and the Health Protection Agency worked closely to identify all human and animal contacts with this puppy.

Health officials identified that two individuals working at the quarantine facility and one member of the charity that imported the affected animal, were bitten by the puppy; all three have received prompt protective treatment. Even if someone has been bitten by an animal with rabies, prompt post-exposure treatment is highly effective in preventing rabies in humans. There is no such validated treatment for animals similarly exposed.

Whilst we are not aware of anyone else who has been bitten, as a precautionary measure we have also been tracing any other people who have been in contact with the puppy since its arrival in the country. Where advisable appropriate treatment has been given.

Four dogs entered the UK with the animal that died of rabies. These animals were humanely destroyed as they had been in direct contact with the animal that died of rabies and were considered to be high risk. Tests for rabies are being carried out on these animals. Initial test results are negative and indicate these animals were not in the later stages of rabies. Further tests are ongoing and results are expected before the end of the week.

The quarantine facility where these five animals were housed, and where the remaining eight dogs from Sri Lanka continue to be housed, is under restriction for the time being.

We also identified that four animals were released from the facility when they had completed their quarantine period after the dogs arrived from Sri Lanka. Three of these four animals were vaccinated on entry to UK quarantine in accordance with standard requirements, while the fourth had been in quarantine as a holding measure until it was shown to have been compliant with normal conditions of entry under the Pet Travel Scheme. These conditions require effective vaccination before entry to the UK. The level of risk associated with these animals is negligible. However, as a precautionary measure, all four of these animals have been confined to their home premises for the time being. Animal Health Agency vets are visiting these animals daily and providing the owners with advice. These animals continue to be healthy. The Health Protection Agency is content with the measures being taken and has provided advice on public health aspects to the owners.

The case occurred in quarantine and has not therefore jeopardised our important and long-standing rabies freedom in the UK. This incident particularly demonstrates the importance of following strictly the rules for entry of animals into this country and the rest of the European Union.

UK citizens travelling abroad should avoid handling stray animals, and if they are bitten should seek immediate medical treatment.

This incident shows the effectiveness of the Government’s emergency arrangements and the commitment of those who worked hard together over the weekend to respond.