Scottish regional resilience partnerships' framework for exotic notifiable animal diseases contingency plans

Information on how and when operational partners should respond to a suspect or confirmed exotic notifiable animal disease outbreak.

Appendix M: Rabies (RAB)

M1. Introduction

Rabies is a fatal viral disease of the nervous system caused by a [rhabdo] virus which can affect all mammals including humans and affect bats as well as terrestrial animals. The disease is usually spread by saliva from the bite of an infected animal. It is invariably fatal once signs of the disease have appeared.

The disease is absent from land mammals in the UK but a strain of rabies called European Bat Lyssavirus ( EBVL 2) has been detected at a low prevalence in certain species of bats in GB and there was a fatal human case of rabies caused by EBVL 2 in Scotland in December 2002.

The Scottish Government's control structures that would be set up in response to a rabies outbreak is outlined in the Scottish Government's Exotic Diseases of Animal Generic Contingency Framework Plan. However, the disease response to rabies is different to most other exotic notifiable diseases. The Rabies Control Strategy contains a more detailed response and can be found at The operational response to a rabies outbreak is generally local authority led. It is expected that the LDCC would be stood up by APHA to help coordinate the response and, given the potential implications for human health, the Scottish Government Resilience Room ( SGoR) would, at minimum, monitor the situation and provide briefing to Scottish Ministers. During an outbreak of rabies in Scotland or elsewhere in GB the rabies web pages will be supplemented with additional information specific to the disease outbreak.

M2. Legislation and National Contingency Plan


Disease Orders



The Animal Health Act (As amended)


The Rabies (Importation of Dogs, Cats and Other Mammals) Order, as amended


The Channel Tunnel (International Arrangements)


The Rabies (Control) Order


The Rabies (Compensation) Order


The Non Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order


The Non Commercial Movement of Pet Animals (Amendment) Order


Scottish Government Rabies Contingency Plan


Scottish Government Rabies Wildlife Control plan

M3. Possible Impact




Domestic Agricultural Industry


Rabies is not primarily a livestock disease but may infect livestock, which are unlikely to transmit disease further.

Movement restrictions would be placed on affected premises. Food Standard Scotland ( FSS) guidance on dairy and meat products would need to be followed where livestock have been in contact with suspect/contact animals. If infection became established there would be increased risk to agricultural workers.

International Agricultural Trade


Trade restrictions on affected holdings. Some countries may be unwilling to import dairy and meat products if disease is suspected/confirmed in livestock.

General Public


In the event of an outbreak there would be a high level of concern amongst the public. Pet owners would be particularly concerned about their own pet's health. They would be required to take measures such as muzzling and leashing as well as keeping pet dogs and cats under control and may be required to vaccinate their pets against rabies. Non-pet owning general public might perceive pets and potentially wildlife reservoirs such as foxes, bats, or (to a limited extent) badgers as a risk.



High public concern would require urgent decisions regarding control and eradication as well as joined-up working with the public health colleagues and local authorities. Outbreaks can occur in urban as well as rural areas.

Rural Industry


In the event of an outbreak, movement restrictions would apply to specific animals within an Infected Area, including livestock, zoo animals and companion animals. Some activities in an Infected Area, such as animal gatherings and hunting, would be banned except under licence.

If outbreaks in wildlife require vaccination and/or destruction, a reaction from Animal Rights groups is to be expected. Possible impact on rural tourism if wildlife controls are required.

Public Health

Very high

Rabies is fatal in humans. People bitten or scratched by a confirmed or suspect animal will require post-exposure treatment. The costs to the National Health Service could be high, and resources would be needed to investigate all possible contacts with rabid animals.

The last human death in the UK from classical rabies (genotype 1) contracted in the country was in 1902. A bat handler died in 2002 from a bat strain of the virus (European Bat Lyssavirus ( EBVL 2). Any infected animal that has started to excrete the virus, which may be several days before clinical signs are seen, poses a hazard.

Currently the only source to the general public in the UK is in part of the bat population that is infected with the EBVL 2 (and possibly EBVL 1) strain of the virus. At highest risk would be workers in quarantine kennels or dealing with animals imported illegally and/or owners of those animals may be exposed to infection brought in from abroad.

M4. History, Risk Introduction and Spread of Disease:

Classical rabies was eradicated from the UK in 1922 but is widely distributed across the globe, present on all continents and endemic in most African and Asian countries. Our island status makes it unlikely that rabies will be introduced through natural wildlife spread.

There are strict legal controls on the entry of animals into the UK aimed at preventing the introduction of rabies. If you are bringing a pet animal into the UK you must follow the requirements for pet travel. Rabies quarantine in the United Kingdom is now only for dogs, cats and ferrets that do not qualify for entry into the UK under these EU pet movement rules. A new maximum quarantine period of 4 months was introduced on 29 December 2014.

The largest risk for rabies entering the UK is through an infected animal imported into the country illegally. Experts have assessed that by far the most likely scenario UK might face is that a single pet with rabies (re)entering the country from abroad without meeting all legal border controls, and subsequently is diagnosed as having rabies, and as being the initial source of the infection. In virtually all cases of rabies brought into Europe in the last decade by illegal pet movements the initial pet that had brought in the rabies was identified. This makes control of the disease spread easier and quicker than a scenario where a series of infected animals are found, and none has recently being abroad.

Rabies affects bats as well as terrestrial mammals. A strain of rabies called European Bat Lyssavirus ( EBVL 2) has been found in Daubenton's bats in the UK on seven occasions. There was also a fatal human case of rabies from a bat bite in Scotland in December 2002. There are no known cases of other animals developing bat rabies in the UK, but the potential exists for such an outbreak to occur.

Transmission depends upon close contact with a live, infected animal. People become infected mainly from bites by animals showing clinical signs of disease. Dogs are the most common source of human infection. If the disease became established in the country, urban foxes could also pose a significant risk.

Transmission of the virus can occur through mucous membranes, but not intact skin. Airborne transmission is believed to have occurred in two laboratory workers in the USA; however, airborne transmission of rabies virus is considered a rare event.

If infection becomes established in the country, infected wildlife (particularly the red fox) or infected companion animals would be the most likely source. Worldwide, dogs account for around 99% of human infections and infected livestock are regarded as "dead-end" hosts for the disease. Since farm animals tend to get paralytic disease rather than the furious form they do not generally attack other animals or people, and do not pose a significant threat to the general public. However, on occasions they may transmit the disease to their handlers.

The majority of human cases in France during the epidemic of sylvatic rabies were attributed to livestock contact. Infected meat or milk from affected animals could in principle be a source if they were consumed, but this is unlikely. The risk from this source is believed to be very low and would be reduced even further by cooking.

Currently the greatest risk is to people who illegally import mammals from countries where rabies is endemic, or who accidentally contact animals imported inadvertently in freight etc. Those who work in quarantine kennels and those who work with bats are at risk of exposure and are normally vaccinated to mitigate the risk. People who may otherwise come into contact with bats may be at risk, such as builders working in roof spaces where bats roost.

In the event of an outbreak, anyone who handles suspect animals in the infected area is potentially at risk.

M5. Control Measures

M5.1 Overview of Control Measures Currently in Place

  • Prevention of introduction by import controls, including EU pet movement rules, quarantine and post import checks.
  • Statutory notification of suspicion of disease in any animal followed by investigation.
  • Statutory powers to control outbreaks including those to impose restrictions on:
    • Movement of animals
    • Confinement and control of pets
    • Seizure and detention or destruction of animals not properly controlled
    • Compulsory vaccination of animals
    • Prohibition of gatherings of animals or activates likely to disperse wildlife
    • Vaccination or destruction of wildlife in defined areas
  • Payment of compensation at market value for animals compulsory culled (except for animals in quarantine).
  • Observation of Suspect Cases: rabid terrestrial mammals are generally only capable of transmitting disease during a limited period of a few days just before they die of rabies. If a terrestrial mammal is still healthy 15 days after the biting/scratching incident, then it can be assumed that it did not transmit disease at or before the incident. This is a guiding control principle for both human and animal contacts.

M5.2 Other Options for Control

Vaccination was previously permitted only for animals prior to export, animals in quarantine and some other specific uses. Since the advent of the EU pet movement rules, vaccination has been a tool freely available to veterinary surgeons, although its use still tends to be limited to animals travelling abroad but it would be extended to other animals in the face of an outbreak.

M6. Control Zones which may be declared

Statutory Instrument


Stage Declared



The Rabies Control Order (1974)

Infected Area

Minister believes or suspects existence of rabies in previous 6 months

The area where rabies considered to exist or have existed in previous 6 months and any adjoining area that might spread to.

Schedule 3

M7. Lead Responder Control Measures Under Statutory and Regulatory Powers and Responsibilities

M7.1 Local Authorities Principal Role

  • Enforcement of EU Pet movement regime
  • Enforcement of the Control Order
  • Control of stray animals in an Infected Area
  • Establishing a Stray Animal pound
  • Humane destruction and disposal of unclaimed strays

M7.2 Animal and Plant Health Agency ( APHA) Principal Role

  • Animal Health will lead in the event of an outbreak of animal rabies
  • In view of potential risk of spill over of disease to mankind there will be close liaison with both National and Local health boards
  • Stand up the LDCC

M7.3 NHS Boards Principal Role

  • Provide pre-exposure immunisation to 'at risk groups'
  • Provide medical treatment and advice to persons presenting with potential rabies prone exposure ( PRPE)
  • Carry out risk assessment for requirement of post exposure prophylaxis ( PEP)
  • Deploy Competent Person in Public Health Medicine as part of LDCC Management Control Team
  • Provide representative to National IMT
  • Contribute to the Communications Strategy, risk communication and public facing messages in respect of matters affecting public health

M7.4 Health Protection Scotland ( HPS)

  • Convene National IMT to coordinate public health response
  • Provide expert public health advice to responding agencies
  • Provide operational support to NHS boards in relation to the public health response to the incident

M7.5 Police Scotland Principal Role

Police Scotland should be aware that under Article 4 of the Rabies (Control) Order 1974 there is a legal duty on any person who knows or suspects that an animal is suffering from rabies, or had died from the disease, to report this to the Local Authority ( LA), the local Animal and Plant Health Agency ( APHA) office or the Police under article 4 of the Rabies (Control) Order 1974. In reality reports are most likely to be made to APHA. If Police take a report call they should contact the local APHA office in Scotland immediately for advice. Police Scotland's main roles would be:

1. Assist local authorities enforce restrictions

2. Provide support for any public disturbance/public safety issues

3. Local authorities and the police have the power to seize animals if the owner fails to comply with any rabies control provisions

4. Deal with access issues to domestic dwellings

5. Provide assistance to APHA through the provision of specialist knowledge in the area of management and co-ordination of major incidents

6. Work in partnership with local authorities and APHA to consider local intelligence

7. Ensure Corporate Communications are informed

8. If required, execute and enforce Section 60(1) of the Animal Health Act 1981 e.g. powers of entry, search and arrest

9. If required, execute and enforce Section 49 and Schedule 1 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 e.g. entry and search, stopping and detaining vehicles and arrest without warrant

10. If required, provide representation at Amber Teleconference.

11. If required, attend DSG

12. Maintain links between resilience partnership and disease control centre response by attending LDCC- MCT and NDCC ensuring representation to NDCC birdtable and input to the OCC overnight reports

M7.6 Scottish Government Principal Role

  • Scottish Government Resilience Room will monitor the progress and brief Scottish Ministers
  • Liaise with LDCC and resilience partners and provide assistance where required
  • Lead the communications to ensure consistency of message
  • Laying, monitoring and uplift of baits (pre-bait, vaccines and/or poison bait) to control spread in wildlife

M8. First Aid

M8.1 Biting and Scratching incident

If anyone is bitten or scratched by the suspect animal, immediate local treatment is of the paramount importance. The wound should be cleaned by thorough flushing under a running tap for several minutes and washing with soap or detergent and water. A virucidal agent such as povidone-iodine solution or 40-70% alcohol should be applied and the wound covered with a simple dressing. Primary suturing of the wound should be avoided as this may increase risk of introduction of rabies virus to the nerves.

A full and expert risk assessment must be promptly carried out and appropriate management agreed in consultation with the local ID Clinician. Management may include administration of rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine, or rabies vaccine alone.

M8.2 Saliva contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes

Where the suspect animal has licked broken skin or where there has been saliva contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth) there is a risk of infection. The area should be washed or irrigated thoroughly with clean water as soon as possible and expert advice sought as above, to assess risk and agree management

Rabies virus does not cross intact skin and so hands should be washed with soap (or detergent) and water. Clothes must be changed if contaminated with suspect animal discharges and subject to a thorough clean, preferably under the direction of Animal and Plant Health Agency staff or the medical authorities.

M8.3 Further Information

Additional information on immunisation against infectious disease is available at:

1. SHPN Rabies: Guidance on Prophylaxis and Management in Humans in Scotland:

and also:

2. Immunisation Against Infectious Disease:

Chapter 27 of this specifically includes information on rabies.



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