Rabies is a disease caused by lyssaviruses, whose natural reservoir is mammals, especially canine animals such as dogs and foxes. Bats as disease vectors are of increasing importance. The virus spreads through salivary contact, in most cases through bite wounds with diseased animals. Infection of humans leads to acute neurological disease, which in almost all cases results in death within a short time. Worldwide, only a few human cases of the disease have been described that were not fatal.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 59,000 people die of rabies each year, with dogs acting as carriers in most cases. Nearly half of those affected are children under the age of 15. Each year, more than 29 million people worldwide receive postexposure prophylaxis. The WHO estimates that this prevents hundreds of thousands of deaths from rabies.
Infection in Austria is considered extremely unlikely. Although Austria has been declared free of terrestrial rabies ("earth-borne rabies", transmitted by e.g. fox, dog, etc.) since 2008, there is a basic possibility of infection by illegally imported animals, e.g. dogs imported from rabies-endemic countries, or infection by bats.
Travelers should be aware that rabies is endemic in some countries and therefore there is a risk of infection. The highest risk is when traveling to Southeast Asia, India or North Africa.
Authors: Sonja Pleininger, Astrid Füszl, Stefanie Schindler, Alexander Indra, Zoltán Bagó