Jump in fraudulent rabies vaccination papers leads to CDC ban on imported dogs

Starting July 14, 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will temporarily suspend the importation of dogs from more than 100 countries classified as high risk for canine rabies.

According to the CDC website, the temporary import ban “is necessary to ensure the health and safety of dogs imported into the United States and to protect the public’s health against the reintroduction of canine rabies virus variant (dog rabies) into the United States.”

Canine rabies was eliminated in the US dog population in 2007 thanks to strict vaccination policies but remains a significant threat in other parts of the world—according to the World Health Organization, rabies causes an estimated 55,000 human deaths each year, mostly in Asia and Africa.

A spike in the number of dogs imported to the US with fraudulent rabies vaccination certificates to meet adoption demand during the pandemic spurred the ban.

The CDC estimates that 6% of all dogs imported into the US arrive from countries at high risk for dog rabies.

The CDC says the importation of even one rabid dog could result in transmission to humans, pets, and wildlife. The CDC noted, “This suspension will protect the health and safety of imported dogs by preventing importations of dogs inadequately vaccinated against rabies and will protect the public’s health against the reintroduction of dog rabies.”

“I'm very glad that the CDC is taking this action,” Laurie Larson, DVM, told NEWStat. Larson, director of the Companion Animal Vaccine and Immuno Diagnostic Service Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the 2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines Task Force, added, “Fraudulent certification is a serious problem that needs to be addressed and this seems to be a reasonable approach.”

It beats the alternative: contact tracing of rabid dogs who slip through the net under false papers.

“Traceback of all the humans and other animals who were exposed to a rabid dog as it made its way into and around the US is a nightmare of epic proportions,” she said, referring to a 2015 case in New Jersey where a stray dog imported from Egypt under a falsified rabies vaccination certificate began showing signs of rabies within days of reaching the US, triggering a six-month quarantine of four other dogs who came over with her.

The dog was euthanized, and 30 people were evaluated for possible rabies exposure. None developed the disease.

Larson said the profession has worked very hard to eradicate canine variant rabies in North America: “We need to continue to protect that investment in the health of our canine population, and, by extension, our public health.”

Larson doesn’t think individual veterinarians or animal hospitals will be strongly impacted by the CDC ban. “It will be felt much more by [the] shelters and rescue organizations that are bringing these dogs in,” she noted. “However, these groups would be impacted much more severely if they were responsible for a rabies exposure—whether it was an employee, an adopting family, or even another animal in their care.”

The CDC will revisit the ban in a year.

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