5.2.1 What is rabies surveillance and how is it carried out?

Rabies surveillance can be defined as a continuous and targeted investigation of animal populations to detect the occurrence (incidence) of rabies in a given area, and can include testing selected animals in the population (for OIE and FAO definitions of surveillance click here).

In other words rabies surveillance aims to detect animals infected with rabies (infected or ill subpopulations), and requires laboratory confirmation. Because of the special pathogenesis of the rabies virus and the typical course of a rabies infection, as a general rule a risk-based sampling scheme should be implemented. It should focus on so-called indicator animals (any suspect animals which show typical symptoms of rabies, animals showing abnormal behaviour, road kills and animals found dead), which should be submitted for routine rabies testing to the NRL for rabies, or any other qualified regional veterinary laboratory.

Also, if necessary, animals involved in biting incidents (human exposure) should be included in routine rabies diagnosis. There is a good chance of detecting the rabies virus in indicator animals. Testing animals taken from hunters, fur harvesters or nuisance trappers is of limited value for surveillance in most cases, as these animals are typically healthy, and therefore do not provide any clues about the occurrence of rabies in a given area. What recommendations on sample size for surveillance exist and whether it is needed at all, please, see 5.5.9.


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Version 1 - Last updated November 2012