Rabies is a fatal viral disease of the nervous system caused by a rhabdovirus which can affect all mammals including humans. The virus is usually spread through contact with saliva via the bite of an infected animal, but can be transmitted through an open wound or a mucous membrane such as those in the mouth, nasal cavity or eyes.
Rabies is a notifiable disease, which means if you suspect an animal may be affected, you should immediately alert your local animal health office. Failure to do so is an offence.
Current Disease Situation
The UK is currently free of terrestrial animal rabies as are a number of other countries including many in the EU. European bat lyssavirus (EBLV2) has been detected at a low prevalence in Daubenton’s bats in the UK. The occurrence of EBLV in the UK does not affect our disease-free status, as this is based upon freedom from terrestrial rabies.
Rabies is widely distributed across the globe, present on all continents and endemic in most African and Asian countries.
Risk of Introduction
Our island status and the success of wildlife rabies control programmes in Europe in recent years, makes it unlikely that rabies will be introduced through natural wildlife spread. There are strict legal controls on the entry of animals into the UK aimed at preventing the introduction of rabies. Pet cats dogs and ferrets entering the UK are subject to rules relating to the movement of pets. Consequently, the largest risk for rabies entering the UK would be through an infected animal imported into the country illegally.