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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 04:14 GMT 05:14 UK
Rabies checks 'too restrictive'
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Rabid dog   Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Rabies has declined sharply in western Europe, officials say
The UK government's chief vet and chief scientific adviser have told BBC News that current rabies controls in Britain are overly restrictive.

Both officials are involved in a review of the issue to assess whether current regulations should be relaxed.

This would bring them into line with other EU countries.

Pressure for a rethink came about because the UK's dispensation for extra controls over and above those of the EU runs out next year.

The controls... actually may be more than is necessary to achieve the level of protection that we want
Dr Debby Reynolds
It is not that long ago that fears of rabies arriving in the UK meant that dogs travelling back from Europe had to be kept in quarantine.

Now the Pet Travel Scheme allows owners to vaccinate their dogs and confirm it with a blood test six months before travel.

It is a more humane system - but still complex and rigid for many pet owners.

Each year, many of them have to cancel holiday plans because they did not know the system well enough.

Available evidence

The government's chief veterinary officer, Dr Debby Reynolds, told BBC News that she believed the current system was more than was needed to keep the UK rabies-free.

EU introduced its European pet movement regulation in 2004
The 'passport' system allows pets to move between countries
Animals are tagged with a chip and vaccinated against rabies
A blood test confirms the presence of antibodies
Tick and tapeworm treatments needed before entering UK
Documentation and chip will be checked at borders
Technical differences between countries can be confusing
She said: "Our scientific conclusions do suggest that the controls themselves are precautionary; that they actually may be more than is necessary to achieve the level of protection that we want."

It is a view that is backed up by the government's chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King: "I've reviewed all the available evidence and I agree that the current restrictions are too precautionary.

"There's a case to consider bringing our rules more in line with other European Union countries."

Within Europe, animals can travel between countries 21 days after vaccination.

Infographic, BBC

Dr Reynolds and Professor King have been asked to advise ministers on the issue. They say that there has been a dramatic decline of rabies in western Europe.

They also say that it is possible to tell within three - rather than six - months whether a dog is carrying rabies.

Most animal welfare groups agree the current system is too severe.

But Chris Lawrence of the Dogs Trust believes that it would be wrong to bring the waiting time down to 21 days after vaccination.
There's no reason why we should change the current situation to suit the rest of the EU
Tio, Epsom

"Rabies is prevalent in Poland, Eastern Europe and many accession countries and by harmonising our regulations, [we] would increase the risk of rabies arriving in the UK," he said.

"A three-month waiting period is supported by the science - and separate blood tests should continue to be required because one can't be completely sure of all vaccine stocks."

Dogs in quarantine before entering the UK

Rabies quarantine to be reviewed
17 Nov 05 |  UK Politics
Rabies warning over minor bites
02 Sep 05 |  Health

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