The Australian government has warned the Northern Territory and the Torres Strait communities that they are at risk of a rabies outbreak. Currently, Australia and Antarctica are the only continents free of the land-based rabies virus.
A study completed by Charles Darwin University has indicated that the virus has spread rapidly throughout the Indonesia Archipelago, only 600 km (about 373 miles) north of Darwin. This has left the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment concerned that an outbreak could occur at any time in the Torres Strait Islands or the Northern Territory.
According to Maryann Dalton, CEO of the Australian based Vets Beyond Borders, rabies is a very serious disease. “Rabies is nearly always fatal but its 100 percent preventable by vaccination,” said Dalton. Dog bites cause nearly all human cases of rabies.
The World Health Organisation states that annually, rabies kills 59,000 people in over 150 countries. With children under the age of 15 making up 40 percent of those afflicted. Once infected, signs of the disease can develop after anywhere between 10 days or several months of exposure and death usually occurs within 10 days.
How Rabies Could Come to Australia
The Department of Agriculture believes that the most likely point of origin for rabies into Australia will be boats carrying rabies-infected dogs from Indonesia or the islands in Papua that land on our northern coastline. Those dogs could then infect dingoes and community cats and dogs.
In January and February 2019, Indonesia suffered an outbreak of rabies that left 629 people infected and 12 dead. The Indonesian Health Ministrys director for vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said the outbreak was caused by low vaccination rates among stray and domestic dogs.
One of the worst-hit regions by the virus was Dompu, where authorities had to distribute 2800 rabies vaccines and put down 1028 dogs—a large number of which were strays. According to the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, rabies had been eliminated in 9 of the countrys 34 provinces, but thats now been reduced to just 4 provinces.