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Europe launches spring offensive against rabies

Europe launches spring offensive against rabies

作者:童正  时间:2019-03-01 07:14:00  人气:

By DEBORA MacKENZIE in BRUSSELS Helicopters are flying low over the European countryside this week, dropping millions of pellets of rabies vaccine in Europe’s first continent-wide effort to wipe out the disease. The European Commission says that the political disarray that frustrated previous anti-rabies campaigns has ended. It plans to rid the European Union of fox rabies in four years, and to push the disease back across eastern Europe. A strain of rabies that infects mostly foxes has been spreading across Europe from Poland since the 1940s. Each year hundreds of cattle are destroyed and some 200 000 Europeans are treated after suspected exposure to rabies. In 1978, Swiss scientists found that if foxes eat bait containing live, weakened rabies virus, they are immunised against rabies. If enough foxes in an area are immune, the chain of transmission breaks down and the virus dies out. Vaccination campaigns have eliminated fox rabies from Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and most of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. But Klaus Stohr, of the WHO’s Veterinary Public Health Unit, says vaccination campaigns in different countries, and even in different German states, have not always been coordinated. The WHO monitors the spread of rabies and the effectiveness of vaccination programmes. It says some treated areas have been reinfected by foxes trotting in from neighbouring, unvaccinated areas. Once rabies has been eliminated, fox populations can double or triple, says Stohr. So reinfection can create a worse rabies problem than existed originally. The tiny German state of Saarland ran out of money and stopped its vaccination programme last year. Neighbouring German states and Luxembourg have succeeded in eliminating rabies, but must keep vaccinating a strip along their borders with Saarland to prevent reinfection. This border zone is larger, and costs more to treat than Saarland itself, says Stohr. This year, Saarland is taking part in the coordinated vaccination campaign. France has also caused problems. It began its vaccination programme after rabies had spread halfway across the country, but it started in the centre of France. This allowed French foxes from the border region to reinfect rabies-free areas in neighbouring Germany. This year France will concentrate on its border areas. The European Commission is largely responsible for the new coordination of national and regional programmes. It has paid half the cost of rabies campaigns in the EU since 1988, with national authorities paying the rest. Officials at the Commission say they no longer offer funding to countries that do not coordinate their campaigns with their neighbours. Last year, to prevent reinfection from outside the EU, the Commission paid half the costs of campaigns in the border regions of the Czech Republic and Austria. This year it plans to extend the rabies-free belt into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. In a spring offensive starting this week, six million baits will be scattered across the new border areas and the areas of the EU where rabies persists, at a cost of £5 million (see Map). A second offensive will take place in the autumn. The baits, developed in Germany, are made of fat and fish meal. Most contain a non-pathogenic strain of rabies virus. About 1.5 million will contain a vaccine developed by the French firm Merieux, consisting of the vaccinia virus coupled with a protein from the surface of the rabies virus. As the campaign pushes east, the WHO ‘will ultimately have to consider a permanent vaccination belt across Russia’ to prevent reinfection from Asia, says Stohr. On another front, the WHO plans to use Europe’s experience of wildlife vaccination to launch an anti-rabies drive against dogs in Third World cities. Trials with similar baits begin this year in Tunisia and Turkey, in an effort to immunise urban dogs. Dogs carry a different strain of rabies from that found in European foxes, and pose a far greater threat. In China alone, 30 000 people a year die from rabies. ‘The problem will be making sure hungry children don’t eat the baits,