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Rabies Control






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Israel is a rabies-endemic country, where four people have died from the disease since 1997. The number of cases of rabies in animals has been increasing in recent years. While the primary carrier of rabies has been foxes entering Israel from the West Bank, dogs, cats, and other animals have also succumbed to the disease. In early 2010, Dr. Yuval Hadani, of the Agriculture Ministry's Veterinary Services, stated "The most worrying development is the discovery of the disease among dogs, while in the past most of the cases were found in wild animals." Approximately 390,000 dogs are registered in Israel, the majority of whom are inoculated against rabies. Over 200,000, however, are not registered, and the vast majority of those dogs have not been vaccinated. Dog owners' failure to vaccinate their pets demonstrates an "outrageous lack of responsibility," said Safed municipal veterinarian Roi Davidson.


Oral Rabies Vaccine

In 1988, Israel's Veterinary Services began to distribute the humane oral rabies vaccine for wild animals, first in the city of Carmiel, and then throughout the country. The EU earmarked funds to conduct a similar program in neighboring Arab regions. Government officials remain confident that improved cooperation between governments in the region will lead to joint efforts to distribute the vaccine throughout the entire area.


There is a remarkable decrease in the incidence of rabies among wild animals whenever the oral vaccine is distributed. In late 2006, 350,000 doses were distributed by airplane in bait that would attract jackals and foxes. By 2010, the oral vaccine had almost completely eradicated the virus among wild animals in Israel. It was hoped that widespread distribution of the vaccine would eventually eliminate rabies, thereby eliminating the justification used by the Veterinary Services to carry out mass strychnine poisonings. (See Strychnine Poisoning.)  However, the oral vaccine method is not considered to be effective for dogs.


Oral Rabies Background

Since its inception in 1984, CHAI urged Israel's Veterinary Services to prevent rabies by distributing the humane oral rabies vaccine that has wiped out rabies in Europe and is the only means of rabies control ever proven effective. CHAI was the first organization to get news of the oral rabies vaccine into the Israeli media. The Veterinary Services resisted testing the vaccine until three people died from rabies. The government was then forced to spend $4 million in one year on preventative rabies shots.


Following the government's agreement to finally use the vaccine, CHAI met with senior officials in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to request that the Veterinary Services be granted financial assistance to purchase and distribute the vaccine. This meeting was arranged through the efforts of former CHAI Advisory Board member Rep. Tom Lantos. USAID provides funds to various countries to combat diseases. Dr. Shimshony, then-head of the Veterinary Services, sabotaged our efforts by telling USAID he preferred to strychnine poison animals to control rabies and to use any funds granted to prevent diseases in cows and chickens, as these affect the Israeli economy. Strychnine causes asphyxiation during convulsions over a period up to 24 hours and has been condemned by the World Health Organization and other rabies control experts as cruel and ineffective against the disease.





Quarantine and Vaccination Regulations

The original 1934 Rabies Ordinance has been changed several times over the years since it was enacted, but CHAI and Hakol Chai have urged the Veterinary Services to make additional changes.


Currently, the law is as follows:

  • If an animal has bitten someone, there is a required quarantine period of 10 days.

  • If any dog or cat is suspected of having come in contact with a rabid animal, the quarantine period is as follows:

  • 6 months if the dog or cat was not vaccinated against rabies.

  • 45 days if the animal was vaccinated according to Israeli requirements, which is annually.

Until recently, there was a 3-month quarantine for vaccinated animals, but we urged the Veterinary Services to reduce the time period to bring it into line with the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a world authority on rabies.

We continue to work to make the following changes:

  • Eliminate the requirement to quarantine animals who were in the general vicinity in which a rabid animal was located, but who meet these conditions:
  • The animal was not directly exposed to the rabid animal.
  • The animal had a rabies vaccination and a booster one year later, and is current on his or her subsequent vaccinations.

The CDC cites a study on its website that found that no animal who received one rabies vaccination and a booster a year later and who was current on his or her vaccinations contracted rabies, even when bitten by a rabid animal. Quarantine facilities in Israel are old and not in a good state of repair, the cages small, and there is typically no enrichment or even bedding. Guardians are not permitted to visit their animals during the lengthy quarantine period. Most important, to quarantine vaccinated animals encourages irresponsibility on the part of the public, who may see no point in getting their animals vaccinated if they will be quarantined whether or not they have received a vaccination.
Note: It has been claimed that a few dogs in Israel who were vaccinated according to schedule nevertheless contracted rabies. The CDC states that vaccine failures following the administration of rabies vaccines, though very rare, can result from poor handling of the vaccine or possibly from an inadequate individual immunologic response.

  • Require rabies vaccinations only every 3 years after the initial vaccination and booster, rather than annually.
    The CDC states that "No laboratory or epidemiologic data support the annual or biennial administration of 3-year vaccines following the initial series." Manufacturers of the vaccine have stated, including on the bottles, that they last for 3 years. Vaccinating animals annually has been shown to cause cancer (sarcomas) in some animals, and it will be less expensive and easier for people to comply with vaccination regulations if they need to get their animals vaccinated only every 3 years. Veterinary Services officials point to the fact that annual vaccinations are still required in some states in the U.S., but these requirements are changing, and there is no reason why Israel should not join the many states that already permit vaccinations every 3 years, rather than follow behind the last state to make the switch.

By following these practices, in 2007 the CDC was able to declare that the United States had become completely free of canine rabies. "We don't want to misconstrue that rabies has been eliminated but the dog rabies virus has been," CDC rabies expert Dr. Charles Rupprecht stated.