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Quarantine And Rabies - The Big Picture?

Words of warning from the unfettered pen of DAVID JOHNSON (Akdamar Turkish Vans)

IN THE issue of OUR CATS dated 23rd February, News and Features Editor Nick Mays published a very important article regarding the further deregulation of our quarantine laws. Almost all will have seen it, some will have read it and the rest just couldn’t be bothered, judging by the singular lack of response!

Long time readers will know I wrote a similar article some years ago when the Government were considering the initial relaxation of the UK’s quarantine laws… but where do we stand now with the latest plans to relax quarantine still further? What follows is my contribution to the debate - again.

Be afraid…

Before I continue I will make one thing clear, I am not being an alarmist, I am telling you the facts and you may think or believe what you want. But if you don’t like reading about nasty things then buy a copy of the Beano instead.

Sadly there is an attitude in this country - two in fact - and they go like this: ‘If I don’t look at it then it won’t see me and I will be ok’, or ‘If I don’t listen then I won’t hear it and it will go away’.
How dumb can some people be? Just to bring the issue really sharply into focus, who has responded to this issue, which affects almost all our wild and domesticated animals? Oh dear! Ask me one on sport.

What are our ‘leaders’ doing or saying on this most important issue? They will have to speak up, as I can’t hear them.

Quarantine is not just about Rabies, it is about protection from a whole host of dangerous and often fatal diseases that are known as Zoonoses or Zoonotics; diseases that are passed quite readily from animals to humans, and from humans to animals, and I will enlighten you on some of these deadly infections later, but first Rabies… And please note: I speak from experience.

Rabid cat, exhibiting violent behaviour

Having lived and worked for a good number of years in many parts of Africa, not in coastal resort hotels or on sandy beaches but a thousand miles right up the bowels of the continent, and having travelled extensively to many other parts of the world, I feel that you need to be warned NOW about the dangers you will be exposing yourselves and your families to - not to mention your animals and mine - if you allow the present quarantine laws to be de-regulated to the level now being regarded as ‘acceptable’ on the other side of the Channel.

It is not my wont to speak about something as dangerous as Rabies in drawing room language, nor did I ever win a battle by pulling punches, and I am often criticized for my style but I will tell you this; Rabies is the most frightening experience that I hope you will never be exposed to.

I certainly wish I hadn’t; to see a human suffer and die from it is a nightmare that doesn’t go away and there is NO KNOWN CURE, and just to make sure that you understand; THERE IS NO KNOW CURE! There are forms of treatment but Rabies kills you, it makes you very, very dead in the nastiest possible way and last year tens of thousands of people died worldwide from Rabies, the same number the year before and the same number will die from it next year.

These are official DEFRA figures, not mine, there are so many deaths that the government cannot put an exact figure to it.

The total recently ‘declared’ cases of animal Rabies in ten Eastern European countries was 5,174 and all of these countries have unrestricted boundaries for wandering animals with each other and the rest of Europe. These were declared cases, how many went undetected? Animals with rabies do not give themselves up; foxes in particular go to earth and die there having bitten anything and everything in its path on the way in their dying frenzy.

Rabies free fib

Wild and urban foxes abound in this country, they live at the bottom of your garden, under your garage and they can be seen sunbathing in many parts of the inner cities. I often see one wandering down my lane in the early hours and he sees me. I had an orphaned fox cub once and reared him, what chance of that if rabies gained a foothold?

Some of our ‘neighbours’ across the Channel have been saying that their country is rabies free… Well, they would wouldn’t they? They will be very frugal with the truth when they are protecting their interests like the ‘booze’ trade and the tourism industry. Don’t forget, our ‘neighbours’ across the channel do not have a country of their own - none of them have - they have an area of land with a political boundary.

But if you look in your atlas, you will see that from the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa, north eastward to the Pacific coast of far Russia, then westwards to the channel coast of France, it is one large land mass and animals have been wandering about without restriction since the day they grew legs and wings and they are still doing it.

In the UK, if your dog or your cat bites you - whether accidentally or not - you have a tetanus jab - most of us are up to date anyway. But if you get bitten on the other side of the Channel you need post-exposure treatment for rabies, and quick - within forty-eight hours - at a cost of around £500 a time.

No borders

Recently in France - one of our so-called ‘neighbours’ - more than THREE-AND-A-HALF MILLION pounds were spent on that very thing! And they are telling us that they are Rabies-free… I know differently! When I was exposed to this, the treatment went like this: First off TEN injections in the belly and believe me, I didn’t just say ‘Goodness me,’ I swore and swore loudly.

And then to compound the sensation, you get TEN more and that doesn’t make you smile either. They have a very strict and well-practiced procedure for dealing with any suspected Rabies case.

We are free of indigenous animal Rabies (and have been except for the years 1918 to 1922), due to the very strict protocol to guard against it - of which quarantine is the key safeguard - but it still gets here. Fortunately for us, it is identified and eradicated in our quarantine system, but not that long ago a case was confirmed in a bat that flew or was blown across the channel by strong winds and that bat didn’t come through normal Channels.

There are custom and immigration checkpoints at all known border crossings but animals - especially wild or free-ranging animals - do not carry passports or health documents; all they carry is disease. We cannot keep illegal immigrants out so what chance with a rabid animal, or one hiding a Zoonotic? Answer: A very slim one.

I travelled a few times through the Berlin Wall to Eastern Germany and back again to visit friends and relatives, each time having to be precisely correct with papers etc, at the invitation of the wrong end of a gun, but foxes and dogs and other animals crossed from East to West almost with impunity and even more so now with the demise of the Wall.

Across the big pond, the border guards on the USA/Mexican border are vigilant and handy with a gun - they don’t shoot the illegal immigrants, they shoot stray dogs.

Why do you think the penalties for smuggling animals into this country are so severe? The smugglers should think themselves lucky that I am not running the programme.

You do not have to be mauled or savaged by a Rabies-carrying animal to contract the disease, a simple skin puncture the likes of which your cat gives you now and again will do. A lick on a tiny area of broken skin from a Rabies carrier will do just as well and it doesn’t have to be a fox which is the main host of the disease, you can get Rabies from many hosts; badgers, dogs and feral cats in particular to name but three.

And if you do get it, make your will, say goodbye to your children before you are shackled to a bed to stop you from biting them.

Rabid dog, staggering and drooling saliva.

So to mention something just as dangerous; the Zoonoses group, and this includes RINGWORM. Oh dear… you didn’t know that did you?

A Zoonotic is a disease that is carried by an animal, the host often not showing symptoms, and it is passed in various forms to humans through urine, droppings and direct transfer and quickly takes up residence in various organs in the human body. A Zoonotic can, and is, carried by a human and is then readily passed to an animal, a pet or any frequently handled animal and the consequences can be, and often are, fatal. Luckily, at present they are not found in the UK…

Dangerous Zoonotics are hosted by a variety of animals throughout Europe and Africa, particularly in areas easily and frequently visited by holidaymakers especially from the UK, namely the Mediterranean areas and countries bordering or close to it. Due to the relaxing of quarantine laws across Europe, some of these diseases are now resident in Scandinavia where they were never previously found, obviously developing climatic hardiness on the way to becoming established in these colder climes.

Veterinarians working in quarantine have immense difficulty now diagnosing and treating these conditions and they are in the frontline. The vast majority of our own resident vets will never have seen these diseases and tick vectors, so will be unable to identify and treat the conditions which can and often are fatal, not only to the animal but to humans also.

Some Zoonotics only previously found in the tropics are now established and thriving in mainland Europe, and they are spreading.

A recent example from just two years ago: A family from Hull went on holiday to France leaving their dogs at home. They travelled in a car owned by their French friends whose own dogs had previously been transported in the same car. The Hull family were infected with a nasty little tick known as Rhipicephalus Sanguineus and brought it home on their clothing and infected their own household, themselves, their kids and their own dogs.

Our best veterinary academics - and we are blessed with the best in the world - have given serious warning to the Government that any relaxation of our present quarantine regulations would literally open the door to many dangerous Zoonotics not found in this Island country of ours. But were they listened to?

The usual suspects

So here is a list of ‘popular’ Zoonotics, to be found in Europe:

• BABESIOSIS is transmitted by ticks, it destroys the red blood cells and kills you within a week.

• DIROFILARIOSIS, or Heartworm, is transmitted by a simple jab from a mosquito and attacks and damages the heart, the kidneys and the urinary tract.

• ECHINOCOCCUS GRANULOSUS and ECHINOCOCCUS MULTIOCULARIS are strains of tapeworm that cause serious damage to the liver and other organs, which can only be treated by radical surgery that is more often than not unsuccessful; that means you die, painfully.

• BELHARSIA, very common, microscopic and lives in untreated water, it invades the body through any available orifice and seriously damages the liver.

• CATHARIDES, very common, comes from a fly of the same name by way of its urine. It sprays on you like a tomcat and the urine acids burn your skin off. I suffered a dose of this on my forehead but, me being of thick skin, it recovered. However, children and fair skinned people may carry

• TUMBLE FLY, very common, makes a painful hole in your skin where it burrows in, the one that got into me had to be removed by the first available tool, a piece of sharpened wood, see my right leg for evidence.

• SAND FLY, very common, gives you Dum Dum fever or Dingy fever that is very, very painful in many parts of the body and takes some time to recover from; ask my wife Joyce for details.
The vast majority of our doctors will never have seen or had experience of these diseases. Even my own doctor who has been a personal friend for many years has little knowledge of them, so if you get one of these you need specialist diagnosis and very special treatment, and that may come too late.

Stay lucky

I have listed just a few of the dangerous Zoonotics that abound on the other side of the Channel and it is that short body of water and our extremely efficient quarantine and our Customs people who are our safeguard. But remove or de-regulate it and we are in trouble - serious trouble - and once established the Zoonotics will be extremely difficult if not impossible to eradicate.

If Rabies became established in our fox population due to their numbers and the availability of ‘fast food’, a vast reservoir of infection would be established that would very quickly spread to our natural wildlife, badgers in particular and the feral cat colonies. Pet animals would be subject to severe restrictions, not least of which is that all cats would need to be confined indoors, in your house or secure buildings.

I’m not scaremongering, nor am I suggesting that you need to wear a beekeeper’s outfit or similar when you go on holiday abroad; just be careful, very careful, that’s all.

My final words are these: I do not have an axe to grind, my axe is always sharp, nor do I have a cross to bear - my shoulders as my friends know are burdened enough. But heed my words: Quarantine is still necessary. Never underestimate the threat of infection.

Just because there hasn’t been a rabies outbreak since the Pet Passport Scheme came into being, doesn’t mean there won’t be. It just means we have been very, very lucky.
So far.

• If you have any comments on this article by David Johnson, send your comments to us at e-mail - editorial@ourcats.co.uk