Disease factsheet: Rabies

Rabies is a notifiable disease. If you suspect signs of any notifiable disease, you must immediately notify a Defra Divisional Veterinary Manager. 


Rabies is a fatal viral disease of the nervous system caused by a rhabdovirus which can affect all mammals including humans.

The disease is usually spread by saliva from the bite of an infected animal. Clinical signs include paralysis and aggression leading to a painful death.

Classical rabies was eradicated from the UK in 1922 and the Pet Travel Scheme and quarantine help protect against infected animals entering the UK, but because of the existence of the disease elsewhere there is concern about rabies being reintroduced by illegally imported mammals. Some European bats carry rabies related viruses. Most species of rabies-susceptible animals entering the UK are required to spend six months in quarantine, unless arriving under and complying with all the conditions of the EU Regulation 998/2003 on the non-commercial movement of pet animals, or Balai (commercially traded animals - contact Animal Health Divisional Office, Beeches Road, Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 2RU (tel: 01245 358383; nightline: 01245 353632; fax: 01245 351162) or e-mail: AH.Chelmsford@animalhealth.gsi.gov.uk for more information).

Further information on the level of rabies in other countries around the world is available on the World Health Organisation website. Information on rabies in Europe can be found on the Rabies Bulletin Europe website.


Advice to the public

The Health Protection Agency provides guidance to members of the public about rabies and human health implications.

Review of UK rabies policies

Defra has been conducting a review of its policies aimed at preventing rabies entering the UK through an imported animal. The main aims of the review are to ensure that UK rabies controls on all rabies-susceptible mammals are proportionate and sustainable, given that their primary purpose is to protect public health, and to inform the UK’s response to the European Commission's review of certain requirements of EC regulation 998/2003 on the non-commercial movement of pet animals.

A 12 week public consultation by Defra closed on 9 February 2006.

Other stakeholder involvement included inviting interested parties to give their views on the current requirements and future direction of the policy. The UK review takes account of evidence on the risk of introducing rabies or other exotic animal diseases or zoonoses through an imported animal, the practical aspects of implementing current policies, as well costs and benefits, and the way in which other parts of Europe address the risk of rabies and other exotic diseases. It also includes an assessment of the scientific evidence on which current policies are based.

On 8 October 2007, the European Commission’s report on rabies movement controls was published along with a draft proposal to extend the transitional arrangements applicable to the UK, Sweden, Malta, Ireland and Finland. A Regulation (PDF 33 KB) confirming the extension to 30 June 2010 of the UK’s current controls for pet movements has now been published. The European Commission is currently considering what sort of arrangements should be in place across the EU after June 2010.

The European Commission has published a proposal to extend the transitional arrangements applicable for the movement of pet dogs, cats and ferrets into the UK, Ireland, Finland, Malta and Sweden until 31 December 2011. This proposal needs to be agreed by the European Parliament and Council before it can be formally adopted.

No decisions have yet been made on any changes to rabies quarantine or Pet Travel Scheme requirements. All the current controls continue to apply. Any changes will be explained on this website in due course.  


Rabies in Bats - European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV)

British bats are most active during the summer. This is the time when many householders discover they are sharing their space with bats, which may have established a roost in their roof space or garden. Bats will generally avoid contact with humans but occasionally may enter property or get caught by a cat. If you find a bat, dead or alive, do not touch it. If it appears to be sick or in difficulty, or has died, call the Bat Conservation Trust helpline on 0845 130 0228 and ask for advice.

Rabies affects bats as well as terrestrial mammals. A strain of rabies called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV 2) has been found in Daubenton's bats in the UK on eight occasions. There was also a fatal human case of rabies in Scotland in December 2002.

Defra takes a precautionary approach to possible contacts with bats by bat workers and others handling bats on a routine basis as well as any incident where a member of the public has come into contact with a bat.  The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has detailed guidance, which includes recommended pre exposure vaccination for those handling bats, and immediate precautionary administration of rabies vaccine for anyone bitten or scratched by a bat.  In light of the HPA guidance, it is not necessary to euthanase a healthy bat for rabies testing involved in a biting or scratching incident.

Defra take a partnership approach with the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) and the Animal Health Agency to ensure prompt advice is given and action taken in the event of such incidents.  These arrangements have been in place since 2006 and continue to work well.


Contingency Plan for Exotic Animal Diseases

Defra has a Contingency Plan for Exotic Animal Diseases, including rabies, which would be used in the event of an outbreak. Further information...

See also


Page last modified: 5 January, 2011