Australia is one of the few countries in the world that remains free of rabies.
If rabies became established in Australia, the toll on human and animal health would be profound and the cost of response and recovery immense.
At least 59,000 people die from rabies each year, with the majority of these deaths occurring in Africa and Asia. Over 99% of these cases are caused by bites from infected dogs.
The Department of Agriculture works overseas, at the border and with communities across Australia to keep us free from rabies and other exotic diseases.
Greater emphasis has been placed on rabies preparedness and surveillance in recent years because the virus has continued to spread through the eastern islands of Indonesia. A rabies incursion in Papua New Guinea (PNG) would increase the number of active pathways into Australia through the Torres Strait via potential illegal movements of live dogs.
We partner with other countries and organisations to improve early detection, preparedness, response and recovery options for rabies and other emerging and infectious diseases.
Through the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Australia has provided assistance for an anti-rabies vaccine bank that can be used by some of the world’s poorest countries.
We support our close neighbours, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor-Leste, to stay free from rabies through:
- assistance with rabies response strategies
- diagnostic capacity and surveillance
- development of national rabies management plans, outlining their approach to control and eradication of the disease.
Since 2011, we have been working with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture to improve the management of emerging infectious diseases. This work has included simulation exercises to test management control strategies for rabies.
Working with communities in Australia
We engage Indigenous communities in northern Australia as part of the
Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).
These communities play a vital role in ensuring Australia maintains its freedom from rabies and other exotic diseases.
Community Animal Health Reporting Programme
The Community Animal Health Reporting (CAHR) Programme runs across the north of Australia.
Indigenous rangers report on the health status of animals in their communities through a questionnaire that captures syndromes of all diseases on the NAQS target list, including rabies.
Reports are collated to develop baseline data for trend analysis and as early warning of any changes.
If anything unusual is reported, our field vets or community liaison officers investigate further.
Torres Strait Islands dog survey
In collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, NAQS conducts an annual survey of all dogs on the outer Torres Strait Islands. This includes a collection of samples for testing for other exotic diseases.
This annual activity is complemented by syndromic surveillance and reporting by our officers on-island, as part of the CAHR programme.
Strategy research and development
We have funded several research studies undertaken by the University of Sydney looking at movements of dogs and the potential spread of rabies (if introduced from Indonesia) in PNG and northern Australia.
The research includes:
- work with PNG quarantine staff to identify potential rabies pathways from Indonesia to PNG and northern Australia
- studies of the contact that occurs between wild dogs (dingoes) and domestic dogs (including free-roaming dogs or ‘community dogs’) in remote northern Australian Indigenous communities
- recording dog (including wild dog) movements and quantifying human-mediated dog movements (such as pig hunting and holiday trips) in remote northern Australian Indigenous communities
- surveying dog owners in remote northern Australian Indigenous communities about vaccination and other rabies control methods.
These studies, among others, will contribute to the development of a national strategy to reduce the risk of a rabies incursion into Australia.
We are developing the strategy in consultation with other government agencies and jurisdictions, to make sure that there are appropriate systems and measures in place to reduce the risk of rabies entering Australia.
How you can help
You can help prevent the spread of rabies by:
- always declaring animals brought into Australia
- immediately reporting any suspected case of rabies by phoning the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.
Animals with rabies may drool excessively and will act strangely.
Image courtesy of Michael Heath.