Rabies is a nearly 100% fatal disease when unvaccinated animals and humans are exposed. As previously discussed the risk of exposure to rabies from dogs imported from other countries, especially from Egypt, has increased exponentially resulting from the shift from pets purchased from USDA licensed or exempt breeders in to the unregulated sales of pets increasingly imported from other countries.
On May 10, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though publication in the Federal Register, announced that
effective immediately, it is temporarily suspending the importation of dogs from Egypt. This includes dogs originating in Egypt that are imported from third-party countries if the dogs have been present in those countries for less than six months. CDC is taking this action in response to an increase of imported cases of rabies in dogs from Egypt. This action is needed to prevent the reintroduction of canine rabies virus variant (CRVV), which has been eliminated from the United States. This suspension will remain in place until appropriate veterinary controls have been established in Egypt to prevent the export of rabid dogs. CDC will coordinate with other federal agencies and entities as necessary to implement this action.
As, rabies, which can infect any mammal, is typically fatal once clinical signs appear. There are various forms of rabies, and the United States has been free of the canine variant (although other variants exist in the US) since 2007. According to the CDC “the canine variant is responsible for 98% of the estimated 59,000 human rabies deaths worldwide each year (WHO, 2004 [Page 116]).”
CDC initiated its temporary importation ban based on the following incidents resulting from importation of rabid dogs to the US from Egypt:
- Importation of one rabies-infected of 26 imported dogs from Egypt on January 29, 2019, imported from a Kansas-based rescue organization into the Kansas City area. The dogs had been “placed into foster care or adopted in the Kansas City metro area of Kansas and Missouri.”
- In December 2017, one of four dogs, imported to JFK from Egypt by an animal rescue group, was diagnosed with the canine variant of rabies, infected before departure from Egypt.
- In May, 2015 one of 35 dogs and cats, imported into New York from Egypt, was diagnosed with rabies after euthanization. Animals from this shipment were transported to five states, and multiple humans and animals were exposed to the rabies virus.
CD justified its ban because,
[t]he United States was declared CRVV free in 2007. The importation of just one dog infected with CRVV risks the re-introduction of the virus into the United States. CRVV has been highly successful at adapting to new host species, particularly wildlife. Importation of even one CRVV-infected dog could result in transmission to humans, transmission to other dogs, transmission to wildlife, and of particular concern, could result in sustained transmission in a susceptible animal population, thereby threatening our entire rabies public health infrastructure.
Rabies is just one of many zoonotic diseases that has been imported along with “rescues” from other countries. Animal and public health remains at risk until animal health importation regulations are applied to shelter and rescue organizations in the same way they are applied to professionally and purposely bred pets regulated by USDA.