Although virtually every mammal is susceptible to rabies, the natural disease occurs predominantly in carnivores. In different geographic areas, usually one or two species predominate as vectors.

In Europe, the red fox is the most important reservoir host and vector fox population undergoes both annual and seasonal variations in cycles of infection. When the incidence of rabies increases in foxes, it also increases in domestic species such as cattle, sheep, cats and dogs. Human exposure occurs through contact with infected domestic animals.

Oral vaccination of foxes using baits which contain live attenuated vaccines or a recombinant vaccinia-rabies virus is now being undertaken and looks very promising. Where fox rabies or foxes are eliminated, the disease disappears from all other species (except bats). Bat rabies in Europe exists largely as an independent cycle and only occasionally does spill-over to terrestrial mammals occur.

Back to menu