The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced a temporary suspension on importation of dogs from countries deemed to be at high risk for dog rabies. The suspension will take effect July 14, 2021, in an effort to ensure the health and safety of dogs imported into the United States and to protect public health.
Approximately 60-70% of dog entry denials (about 200 cases annually) are due to fraudulent paperwork. In 2020, the CDC found more than 450 instances of incomplete, inadequate, or fraudulent rabies vaccination certificates for dogs arriving from high-risk countries. This constitutes a 52% increase in dogs ineligible for re-entry, compared with 2019.
Normally, dogs that are denied entry to the U.S. because of inadequate rabies certificates are returned to their country of origin on the next available flight. But in 2020, reduced flights during the pandemic meant dogs that were denied entry faced longer wait times in the U.S., leading to illness and even death in some cases.
The canine strain of rabies was eliminated in the U.S. nearly 15 years ago, although other strains of rabies continue to circulate. The CDC’s temporary suspension is an important step in reducing the risk of reintroduction, which would pose serious health concerns for both people and animals.
What you should know about the suspension:
- It applies to all dogs, including puppies, emotional support dogs, and dogs that traveled out of the U.S. and are returning from a high-risk country.
- It also applies to dogs arriving from countries not at high risk if those dogs have been in a high-risk country during the previous six months.
- You can view the list of high-risk countries on the CDC website.
- While the suspension is in place, CDC may issue a Dog Import Permit that will allow the importation of up to three fully rabies-immunized personally-owned dogs, six months and older, from high-risk countries. To be eligible for a permit, the importer must be a U.S. government employee with permanent change of station orders or temporary duty orders, a U.S. citizen or lawful U.S. resident entering the United States for employment or education, or an owner of a service dog that is specifically trained to assist a person with a disability.
- Institutions may obtain Dog Import Permits to import more than three dogs for use in science, education, or exhibition, or for bona fide law enforcement activities.
A recent case of rabies
A rabies-positive dog entered the country through O’Hare International Airport on June 10. The dog was part of a group of 33 dogs and one cat imported from Azerbaijan by an international rescue group. Testing performed at CDC indicated the rabid dog was infected in Azerbaijan with a cosmopolitan rabies variant.
Public health officials identified at least 19 people who had been exposed to the dog. Of the other animals in the group, 14 remained in Illinois, and others were transported to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, Washington, California, Minnesota, and Florida.
CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection worked with state public and animal health officials to track the dogs and cat, and identify other people or animals that had come into contact with them so as to ascertain the need for post-exposure prophylaxis.
Assistance from local veterinarians was key in locating the exposed animals and people, and CDC and state public and animal health officials expressed sincere gratitude for that help. We’re proud to see another example of veterinary professionals stepping up to meet an important health challenge.
This situation is not only a poignant example of the need behind CDC’s temporary import suspension, but also reminds us of why it’s so important to ask about pets’ travel histories.
Information for pet owners
Rabies kills around 59,000 people worldwide every year. Almost all these deaths are due to transmission by dogs in countries where vaccination programs are not sufficiently developed to stop the spread of the virus. In the U.S., rabies vaccination and animal control programs—along with prompt and appropriate treatment for people who have been bitten—have dramatically reduced the number of human cases of rabies.
This is a good reminder for pet owners to make sure their pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date, especially those who may have put off veterinary visits during the pandemic. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if you’re unsure about your pet’s rabies vaccination status.
AVMA resources to help:
Rabies and your pet
Traveling with your pet