What You Need To Know About Rabies
Singapore has been rabies free since 1953. However, we must remain vigilant. Together, we can continue to keep Singapore rabies-free. The Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) cluster under the National Parks Board puts in place precautionary measures to prevent a rabies incursion. These measures include import controls and also rabies vaccination exercise and surveillance.
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FAQs on Rabies
The following FAQs will explain what is rabies, how it is spread, and what NParks/AVS is doing to prevent the disease from coming into Singapore.
1. What is Rabies?
Rabies is a fatal disease caused by the rabies virus that affects mammals, including humans. The virus can be transmitted when the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membranes (e.g. eyes, nose, and mouth) of another mammal. For instance, the rabies virus is transmitted to a human when a rabid dog bites a person or licks a person’s exposed skin or mucosa.
The virus travels from the site of infection through the nerves and eventually attacks the nervous system and damages the brain.
2. What is the global importance of rabies?
Although rabies is a fatal disease, it is preventable in both humans and animals through the administration of vaccines and timely treatment after exposure. Yet, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) reports an annual average of about 60, 000 human deaths attributed to rabies worldwide, with someone dying from the disease every ten minutes. In recent years, there has been a collaboration of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the WOAH, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) to eliminate human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.
3. Is Singapore rabies-free?
Yes, Singapore has been rabies-free since 1953. However, there are still reported cases of rabies in our neighbouring countries. To prevent rabies from coming into Singapore, AVS works closely with border control agencies, such as the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and Police Coast Guard, to implement precautionary measures. These precautionary measures, which include dog licensing and strict import controls, help to curb the smuggling of unlicensed animals into Singapore. AVS also identifies dog populations in areas with potentially higher risk of rabies introduction (e.g. dogs on coastal fish farms) and conducts precautionary rabies vaccination for these dogs.
4. Why should I know about rabies?
Rabies is a zoonotic disease and can be transmitted from infected animals to humans. If infections are left untreated in a person, it can result in a life-threatening condition and death. Travellers visiting countries with known risks of rabies should consult their doctor and seek advice on rabies vaccination.
Similar to humans, the incubation period for animals may be prolonged, reaching up to 6 months, during which the animal does not show any clinical signs.
The clinical signs of rabies can be highly variable, and may not be obvious during the initial stages of infection. Abnormal behavioural changes and paralysis may be seen in rabid dogs, amongst other signs which include the following:
- Abnormal behavioral changes e.g. a normally playful puppy becoming shy and withdrawn/a nocturnal animal being active in the day
- Unprovoked aggression e.g. biting two or more people, animals, or inanimate objects without being provoked
- Incoordination and paralysis
- Excessive salivation or mouth foaming, difficulty swallowing, or appearing to be choking
- Abnormal vocalisation (barking or growling) or sudden inability to vocalise
- Hypersensitivity to touch, sound, or water
Public Health Risks
1. What are the common symptoms of rabies in humans?
Initial symptoms include fever, headache, general weakness and discomfort at or around the site of the animal bite. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include confusion, hallucinations, agitation, anxiety, insomnia, hydrophobia (fear of water), hyperactivity, muscle paralysis and seizures. The disease progresses rapidly once symptoms appear and death often follows within 10 days due to cardio-respiratory arrest.
2. Is there a human vaccine for rabies and who should be vaccinated against it?
Yes, there is a human vaccine for rabies.
Pre-exposure vaccination is recommended for persons travelling to areas of the world where rabies is common and persons who may be exposed to the rabies virus as part of their work e.g. veterinarians, animal handlers, and certain laboratory workers.
Speak to your doctor to find out more.
3. Where can I get the rabies vaccine for humans?
The rabies vaccines are available at public hospitals and some private clinics. For more details regarding vaccine availability, please contact the hospitals and clinics in advance.
1. Can other animals like cats and bats get rabies?
Yes, all mammals, including cats and bats, are susceptible to infection with rabies viruses, but only a few species are recognised as important for the persistence of the disease. In more than 99% of human rabies cases, the virus is transmitted via dogs. There are also reports of rabies cases in cats during outbreaks. Fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians do not get rabies.
Bats are generally shy and do not attack or show aggression unless a person attempts to handle them. For your safety, do not feed nor get close to the bats. If contact with bats is necessary (e.g.to remove an injured bat from the household), follow these steps laid out by the WHO to safely capture the bat:
2. What should I do if I have been bitten or scratched by an animal?
Wounds and scratches should be washed immediately with soap and water for a minimum of 15 minutes. Mucous membranes (e.g. eyes, nose, and mouth) should be washed thoroughly with water.
Seek medical treatment as soon as possible and explain that you have been bitten or scratched by an animal.
In event of a rabies outbreak, persons who have been exposed to rabies should receive the rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin, if indicated. The vaccine and immunoglobulin are available at an animal bite referral centres such as Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
If the incident involves a bite by an animal showing clinical signs suggestive of rabies, please report the incident to AVS as soon as possible at 1800-476-1600.
Suggested resources for more information on rabies