Within reach of Australia: Rabies is now present only 350 kilometres from northern Australia

Sep 28, 2012
Rabies, spread mainly by rabid dogs, kills an estimated 100,000 people a year. Credit: Flickr/Andy Wagstaffe

Rabies is now present only 350 kilometres from northern Australia, closer than the distance from Sydney to Dubbo.

If it reached our shores it would have serious ecological, public health, economic and social impacts according to Professor Michael Ward, from the University of Sydney.

Professor Ward is conducting research to identify how spreads and the risks of future outbreaks, such as evaluating to detect a potential incursion in the Top End and Torres Strait.

Speaking on World Rabies Day, 28 September, Professor Ward, the Chair of Veterinary Public Heath and Food Safety at the University of Sydney said, "Rabies, spread mainly by the bite of rabid dogs, and inevitably fatal, is a serious health risk for communities in Asia and Africa. The disease kills an estimated 100,000 people a year.

"Australia is fortunate to not be affected by this terrible disease, which infects the and causes inflammation of the brain. However, during the past 10 to 15 years rabies has spread to areas of that were previously rabies-free, such as Flores and Bali. In 2010, the disease reached the Tanimbar Islands, part of the Moluccas, just 350 kilometres north of the Top End."

The University's Faculty of Veterinary Science is researching rabies in Indonesia and its potential to spread to neighbouring regions that are currently free of the disease, specifically Timor Leste, and .

"Our work overseas involves observing and recording when and how often dogs are being transported between islands including direct observations of ferries and . Estimating the size of the dog population in rabies-free areas is also an important component of determining risk," said Professor Ward.

In northern Australia, the research team from the faculty is applying a similar approach, recording the movement of dogs between communities to determine how rabies might spread, should it be introduced.

While some government surveillance for rabies is already being undertaken the team is assessing additional surveillance systems to better detect a rabies incursion.

"We are concerned about the potential ecological impact of rabies in this region," Professor Ward said.

"Dingoes, as a top predator, play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem diversity and if their numbers were substantially reduced, it could affect many other species in this fragile ecosystem.

"Potential economic impacts on the cattle industry should also not be underestimated. Cattle losses from rabies can be significant and would be very hard to prevent if rabies got into the Top End. And of course, controlling rabies would be horrendously expensive."

"To prevent rabies entering Australia, we must help all our near neighbours to increase their alertness and preparedness, and also help Indonesia to reverse this seemingly inexorable spread of rabies to the southeast," said Dr Helen Scott-Orr, an affiliate of the Faculty of , current board director of the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and Animal Health Australia, and former Chief Veterinary Officer of NSW.

"It is really unacceptable that, in this day and age, a dreaded disease like rabies should continue to ravage new vulnerable communities near us."

Experience in Flores, Bali and elsewhere shows that to eradicate rabies we must vaccinate dogs against the disease and maintain a level of 70 percent vaccination coverage across the dog population, both tame and wild, for several years, Dr Scott-Orr says.

"This sounds simple but is extraordinarily difficult and also very costly," said Dr Scott-Orr. "Culling wild or stray dogs, which may seem logical, just doesn't work, and can actually do more harm than good."

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hope for a rabies eradication strategy in Africa

Jan 21, 2009

Most of the rabies virus circulating in dogs in western and central Africa comes from a common ancestor introduced to the continent around 200 years ago, probably by European colonialists. In the current issue of Journal of ...

Bat on Wisconsin flight prompts rabies probe

Aug 12, 2011

(AP) -- Health officials say a bat on a flight from Wisconsin to Atlanta last week has sparked a national search for passengers to protect them against possible rabies.

Shanghai dogs implanted with chips

Oct 26, 2006

About 65,000 Shanghai dogs have been implanted with digital ID chips to assist in dog identification and prevent the spread of rabies.

New rabies virus discovered in Tanzania

Mar 12, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- A new type of rabies virus has been discovered in Tanzania by scientists from the University of Glasgow and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.