Commemorating the World Rabies Day: no cases of this disease are recorded in Lithuania

On 28 September each year, the World Rabies Day is commemorated to draw attention of the public to the threat of this fatally hazardous disease both to humans and animals as well as the importance of prevention with the emphasis of the enormous progress in the battle against rabies.

According to information available at the State Food and Veterinary (SFVS), in the past two years, no cases of rabies have been recorded in Lithuania neither for wild, nor for domestic animals.

“The absence of rabies in our country was achieved through the systematic implementation of the programme for eradication of rabies by the SFVS for fifteen years. This is a pleasing result indeed, however, diseases do not mind any borders, therefore, we must not relax, and animal keepers have to remember their responsibility to regularly vaccinate their animals against this dangerous disease, as rabies can be prevented only through the application of intensive preventive measures”, – said Mr Darius Remeika, Director of the SFVS.  

Back in 2005, the numbers of cases of rabies in our country were increasing dramatically (as many as 1652 cases were recorded). The disease was mostly prevalent among wild animals (80 per cent of all the cases). Before 2006, the preventive vaccination for prevention purposes was applied only for pet animals, whereas cattle and other livestock animals used to be vaccinated only in locations of outbreaks of the disease. Having started the implementation of the long-term programme for the eradication of rabies by distributing oral vaccine from aircrafts all over the country twice a year, positive results were recorded already in two years, i. e., in 2007, the recorded number of cases of rabies was three times smaller than in 2005.

Analyses performed at the National Food and Veterinary Risk Assessment Institute (NFVRAI) this year confirm that the effectiveness of the vaccination of wild animals susceptible to the disease is very high, i. e. up to 84–92 per cent. Blood testing data analysis showed that nearly 45 per cent of wild animals susceptible to the disease (foxes and racoons) had developed immunity for the causative agent of rabies.

Last case of rabies was diagnosed in Lithuania for a dead fox in the border area with Belarus in 2018. However, there are still cases of this disease both among domestic and wild animals in the neighbouring countries (Belarus and Poland), therefore, there is always a risk that infected wild animals might happen to come to Lithuania.

Therefore, the vaccination of wild animals against rabies is further carried out twice a year – in the spring and in the autumn. At the time of the vaccination, baits with a vaccine against rabies are distributed from small aircrafts. This year, the spring vaccination of wild animals was carried out in April and May while the autumn vaccination is going to be started on 2 October.

We would like to remind that owners of dogs, cats or ferrets are also obliged to vaccinate their pets against rabies once per 12 months, or if a long-acting vaccine is used the vaccination has to be performed in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. The veterinarian who performs the vaccination has to make records with the indication of the date of the vaccination and the validity date of the vaccine in the vaccination certificate or in the pet passport.

Diagnostic studies of rabies and studies of the effectiveness of the oral vaccination, which are carried out and which receive a lot of attention in Lithuania, demonstrate the effectiveness of combatting this fatal disease. 

According to information of the World Health Organisation, no more cases of rabies are recorded among human population in Europe. However, the infection is still prevalent in the continents of Africa, Asia and South America. The highest morbidity rates among adults and children are recorded in the continent of Asia, in particular, in India. Last fatal case from this disease in Lithuania was recorded in 2007.