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Monday, September 26, 2011

Norway : Outbreak of rabies among arctic foxes and reindeer on Svalbard archipelago

An outbreak of rabies report from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, excerpt :

" The Governor of Svalbard and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority report an outbreak of rabies among wild animals in and around the city of Longyearbyen on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic. Since 16th September 2011 rabies has been diagnosed in one polar fox and two reindeer.

In addition, rabies was diagnosed in a polar fox in January 2011. All the diagnosed animals showed signs of abnormal behaviour, and both reindeer presented with neurological symptoms. At present, seven people have been administrated post-exposure prophylaxis. No human cases of rabies have ever been diagnosed in the area.

Rabies on Svalbard

Rabies is regarded as an endemic disease throughout most parts of the Arctic. The Arctic fox is the main host of the virus, and the same arctic virus variant seems to infect the Arctic fox throughout the area it inhabits. How rabies is maintained in the fox population remains largely unknown. On Svalbard, rabies was diagnosed for the first time in 1980 during an outbreak in the Arctic fox population. From 1980 to 1999, a total of 25 animals were diagnosed with rabies on the islands, including three reindeer and one ringed seal. No further cases had been reported until the diagnosed case in a polar fox in January 2011. Mainland Norway remains rabies-free.

Svalbard has a population of 2,700 with most living in the city of Longyearbyen. Approx 500 are Russian and Ukrainian citizens living in the mining community of Barentsburg.

Abnormal behaviour

Following consultation with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, the Governor of Svalbard has urged the public to avoid contact with dead animals and any animals that are behaving abnormally. Polar foxes detected in the city of Longyearbyen will be caught and killed by the authorities. The Governor is regularly checking the surroundings of Longyearbyen by helicopter to look for animals exhibiting abnormal behaviour and cadavers. All dogs on the islands must be kept on a leash."

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