No 14/15 - 2015
In Denmark, being bitten by a bat is normally the only indication for prophylactic treatment against rabies. If, after being bitten by other animals, there is reason to suspect that the animal has rabies, the animal should be examined by a veterinary. The veterinary will destroy the animal, if necessary, and will arrange further investigation.
In other parts of the world, rabies is more widespread. Transmission occurs through the penetrating bite of an animal infected with rabies or, on rare occasions, through direct contact between infected saliva and mucous membranes or wounds.
The recommendations for post-exposure prophylaxis are available in EPI-NEWS 37/10 where pre- as well as post-exposure prophylaxis is described.
In 2014, a total of 156 persons received treatment for rabies following animal bites or other mucous membrane contact with animals suspected of having rabies, Table 1. None of these persons had received pre-exposure vaccination.
Bat bites in Denmark were the reason that 16 persons received prophylactic treatment, including 2 children. For one person, the treatment was discontinued because the bat tested negative to rabies virus. One person initiated treatment after having been bitten by a cat that had been imported from Russia. The cat was destroyed, and treatment was discontinued because it tested negative to rabies.
A total of 139 Danes were possibly exposed to rabies abroad: 88 in Asia (including 52 in Thailand, 11 in Indonesia and 7 in India), 39 in Europe (including 15 in Turkey), 7 in Africa, 1 in the Middle East and 2 in Greenland, Table 1.
A total of 80 persons who had possibly been exposed to rabies abroad were treated with rabies immunoglobulin (RIG); for 60 persons treatment was not initiated until they had returned to Denmark, 35 of these had not seen a doctor abroad.
Among the 52 persons who were possibly exposed to rabies in Thailand, 24 had been bitten by dogs, 20 by monkeys, 7 by cats and one by a pig.
Of the 52 persons, 44 initiated treatment in Thailand, whereas 8 persons only initiated treatment after returning to Denmark. Of the 44 who initiated treatment in Thailand, only 11 received both vaccination and RIG.
Among the 15 persons who were exposed to rabies in Turkey, 14 were also vaccinated in Turkey. Only 1 concurrently received RIG.
Issue of post-exposure prophylaxis
Prophylactic treatment after possible exposure is discussed with the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Statens Serum Institut, also outside normal working hours, www.ssi.dk. If post-exposure prophylaxis is indicated, Statens Serum Institut may provide human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG) and vaccines urgently to GPs at the expense of the Region. Outside normal working hours, HRIG and vaccines can only be supplied urgently for hospitals, which themselves cover the costs, including transportation costs.
HRIG and vaccines for post-exposure treatment cannot be provided for vaccination clinics and the like.
In case of bat bites in Denmark, the bat should be caught, if possible, and submitted for rabies testing at the National Veterinary Institute, Technical University of Denmark, by agreement with the Regional Food Inspectorate. It is important to follow the occurrence of rabies in Danish bats. The prevalence of rabies among bats in Denmark remains unknown as only a limited number of bats are tested. If a bat tests negative, the vaccination series is terminated.
Possible exposure to rabies abroad is the primary cause of post-exposure prophylaxis; this applied to 139 (89%) of all treated persons in 2014. In 2014, none of the exposed persons had received pre-exposure rabies vaccination.
When giving advice prior to foreign travel, it is important to mention the risk of rabies associated with contact to animals. Travellers should be advised to limit contact to animals and to see a physician without delay in case of an animal bite.
Recommendation of pre-exposure vaccination against rabies may be considered even in connection with short journeys to rabies endemic countries. Such vaccination is particularly relevant if the nature of the journey will make it difficult to reach medical treatment within few days. It is also important to inform travellers that HRIG treatment is unavailable in many parts of the world.
Patients who have received pre-exposure vaccination and who get bitten by an animal do not need immunoglobulin as they have already produced antibodies, but they should be given two vaccinations; one on Day 0 and the other on Day 3, EPI-NEWS 37/10.
(A.H. Christiansen, S. Cowan, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology)
Rabies in animals
Rabies is caused by lyssavirus. Two types exist: classic rabies virus and European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV), also known as bat rabies virus. Classic rabies occurs endemically in most of Eastern Europe, while sporadic rabies outbreaks are continually seen in Western Europe, most recently in Greece in 2014. Illegal import of pets from Third-World countries to Europe continues to pose a problem; the most recent reports are from 2013 where several cases of rabies were reported in dogs and cats imported from Morocco to Spain, Germany and France.
Classic rabies has not been observed in Denmark since 1982, while bat rabies, which is considered endemic, was detected for the first time in 1985. The most recent positive virus finding in a bat was recorded in 2009.
In 2014, a total of 27 animals were tested for classic rabies and/or bat rabies, all of which tested negative, Table 2. Classic rabies virus is endemic to Greenland, where Arctic foxes frequently transmit the infection to other mammals. In 2014, classic rabies virus was detected in 3 polar foxes, Table 2.
(Thomas Bruun Rasmussen, Technical University of Denmark, Lindholm)
8 April 2015