Lithuania is seeking to be included in the list of countries with no risk to get infected with rabies – the contagious disease, which is lethally dangerous both to humans and animals. Not long ago, this disease was one of major concerns in our country. However, in the past decade, the situation in Lithuania has been constantly improving, whereas in the past two years, there has been not a single case of wild or domestic animals infected with rabies.
According to data of the rabies surveillance programme carried out by the State Food and Veterinary Service (SFVS), not as single case of rabies was recorded in Lithuania in 2016–2017. Under the above programme, 600 samples of animals (dogs, cats, foxes and racoons) are analysed annually. No rabies have been recorded for domestic animals since 2013, whereas the disease was identified for wild animals (a fox and a racoon) in Ignalina district and in the border area with Belarus in 2015.
There have been no fatal cases of rabies in humans recorded since 2007 when a 42-year old man was bitten by a dog while travelling in India. According to data of the Centre for Communicable Diseases and AIDS, since 2004, the number of persons injured by wild or domestic animals who approached the Centre has been decreasing from year to year. The substantial decrease of numbers of approaching persons started after the vaccination of wild animals against rabies had been started.
The vaccination of wild animals has been carried out by the SFVS since 2006. In the spring and autumn each year, baits with the vaccine are distributed by planes. The vaccine used to be distributed all over the territory of the country, however, in the past year, this campaign was carried out only in the border areas with the Kaliningrad Region and Belarus. As from 2018, the vaccination of wild animals will be carried out only in the 50 km buffer zone bordering Belarus, Latvia and Poland as no cases of rabies have been recorded in the neighbouring Kaliningrad Region in the past three years, either.
Despite of the fact that no cases of rabies have been recorded, the SFVS reminds that any contacts with unfamiliar, stray or wild animals should be avoided, whereas in case of injuries caused by domestic or wild animals, one has to immediately seek medical assistance. One has to bear in mind that, in case the clinical symptomatology stage is reached, the rabies is always a fatal disease because of the progressing encephalopathy. The global practice most frequently deals with wild and domestic dogs infected with this disease, however, any warm-blooded animals (e. g., cats, ferrets, rats, foxes, bats, monkeys, etc.) may get infected with this disease and may spread it.
The only effective way to fight this dangerous disease is vaccination of domestic and wild animals. All owners of pet animals (dogs, cats and ferrets) must vaccinate their animals against rabies at least once per 12 months, or, where a long acting vaccine is applied, animals must be vaccinated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The veterinarian who has rendered the service must make records of the date of the vaccination and the date of its duration in the certificate of vaccination or pet passports.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) grouped all its member states into the following risk groups as regards rabies: no risk, low risk and high risk countries. The following countries are considered completely free from rabies: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, most isles and islands (Bermuda Islands, Canary Islands, Maldives, Malta, etc.). As regards the Baltic Countries and the neighbouring countries, Estonia is the only country considered free from the risk of rabies. Big part of Asia (India, Thailand, Iraq, Iran, etc.) and nearly all African countries are considered as high risk countries.