Rabies among polar foxes on Hopen, Svalbard
Rabies has been detected in a polar fox on Hopen, an island in the Svalbard archipelago. To date, rabies has never been detected in humans in Svalbard.
The fox attacked and bit two polar dogs at the Hopen research station in Svalbard, before being bitten to death by one of the dogs, according to personnel at the station. The fox was sent for analysis to the Veterinary Institute.
The dogs are vaccinated against rabies. Nobody was bitten or exposed to infection in any other way and everyone working on Hopen is vaccinated. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority is working on infection control measures in collaboration with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Veterinary Institute and the Governor of Svalbard.
Advice for suspected infection
Anyone who has been bitten or has been wounded or scratched during contact with animals suspected of being infected with rabies should seek medical attention as soon as possible for treatment and vaccination. The same applies to anyone who has been licked or bitten by a dog that may have been in contact with suspected animals during the last two days, they should also consult a doctor to assess the need for vaccination.
Rabies has never been detected in humans in Svalbard. Visitors and locals in Svalbard who come into direct contact with wild mammals should be vaccinated. Avoid contact with wild animals generally, and keep away from dead animals and animals that are behaving abnormally. Anyone who has been in contact with animals that may be infected should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
The disease is caused by the rabies virus. It is primarily a disease among animals but humans can also be infected. Rabies occurs in all continents except the Antarctic.
In industrialised countries, the disease mainly occurs among wildlife, e.g. foxes and bats, and the virus spreads to livestock and humans. In low-income countries, the disease occurs predominantly among dogs (including puppies) and is transmitted to humans through dog bites.
Rabies occurs sporadically among animals on Svalbard, and the last outbreak was in 2011 when it was detected among four polar foxes and some reindeer. Rabies was first detected in animals in Svalbard in 1980. No cases among animals were reported during the period 1999-2010, despite extensive studies of fox carcasses. Mainland Norway is free of rabies.
Hopen is an island that forms part of the Svalbard archipelago. The island is located in the Barents Sea, 185 km east of the southern tip of Spitsbergen. The island is 33 km long, 2 km wide and is protected. Apart from a meteorological station with a small crew, the island is uninhabited.