January 24, 2016

Rabies Entering the United States Through Imported Animals

Animal welfare agencies are urged to rethink the practice of importing animals and instead focus on the welfare to animals here at home.
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According to a recent report in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a rabid dog was imported into the United States in 2015. This is the fourth reported incident in the past 11 years of a rabid dog being imported into the country. CDC officials are urging animal welfare agencies to rethink their practices of importing animals, especially since there are so many US-based animals that are in need of good homes—animals with verifiable vaccination records.
 
Rabies is the deadliest of all zoonotic diseases and, according to the CDC, accounts for an estimated 59,000 human deaths globally each year. Any mammal can be infected, and once symptoms appear, death is usually imminent. Some symptoms of rabies to look for in dogs include fever, seizures, paralysis, and excessive salivation or frothy saliva. The CDC website describes that individual experience similar symptoms such as general weakness or discomfort; fever; headache; discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of bite; anxiety; confusion; and agitation. As the disease progresses, an individual may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia.
 
The United States has strict rabies vaccination requirements on dogs to prevent rabies exposure to humans and the spread and introduction of rabies viruses. Regulations on imported animals also insist on a valid rabies vaccination certificate for dogs aged >3 months that is current within 30 days of arrival in the United States. Some individual states have even stricter guidelines that require a recent Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued by a veterinarian in the state or country of origin before the animal enters the state. Due to limited resources at US ports of entry, however, these regulations are difficult to enforce on imported animals. Therefore, residents and animal welfare groups that import these animals need to understand that the importation of rabid animals into the United States has broad public health implications and that they must work to increase screening efforts and take expanded precautionary measures if they insist on continuing to import animals.
 
According to the CDC, “The reintroduction of a canine rabies virus variant or introduction of any nonendemic rabies viruses into a naïve animal population has the potential to change the epizootiology of rabies in the United States, leading to severe health consequences and economic losses.”
 

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