The Webmaster has had a number of request for information on the quarantine arrangements in the UK. So I decided that this would make an appropriate topic for my first article. I must emphasis that the position here is very fluid, with no clear cut issues, and almost on a daily basis there is fresh news and reports on the possible future arrangements of the quarantine system. All I can do here is to set out for you the situation and main arguments as they now exist, and promise that as any changes take place, to keep you all informed.
The word Quarantine comes from the French meaning forty days. This referred to the period that a ship, suspected of carrying an infection disease, was held in isolation. In more recent times the meaning has been extended to include all forms of confinement, of human, ship or animal, as a method of preventing the possible spread of contagious diseases. In 1901 the UK Parliament passed the Importation of Dogs Act. This Statute, specifically concerned with the control of Rabies, set out that all dogs from any country (excluding Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man), must, on entering a British port, be subjected to a six months quarantine in a Ministry of Agriculture approved kennel. The system worked, and the UK became rabies free, while most other countries continued to suffer. After the first world war, returning serviceman smuggled in dogs from the continent, and some three hundred cases of rabies occurred, restricted to various domestic and farm animals. This outbreak was eventually controlled, and the UK returned to it's rabies free status. But, in 1969 there came another threat from the disease. A family returning from abroad, had sent their dog ahead into quarantine. It remained in isolation for over seven months. Just after the family and dog were reunited in Camberley, it became ill, and completely out of character attacked a cat. The dog went missing, but the family recognised the possible cause of the dog's actions. Their worst suspicions were confirmed, when, on finding the dog, it attacked and bit the wife. Scientist having learned from the actual outbreaks of rabies after the first world war, pointed out the minimal risk of the disease spreading into wild life chain. Officials still decided to destroy all mammals within a given area around Camberley. This reaction was a political exercise more concerned with reassuring the public. Even though tests proved that the dog was indeed rabid, there was no signs of rabies in any of the wild life animals that were killed. The differing stances of the scientist and politicians seen in the Camberley incident of 1969 still persists to the present day. Scientist insist that they now better understand how to control rabies in the dog, it is the politicians, working to a different agenda, who are resisting change.
Of course, over the years the initial regulations imposed in 1901 have been added to, ( to include other forms of transport, etc.), but, essentially, the basic rule, as set out above remains intact. It does not matter who owns the animals, from prince to pauper, the rule applies equally. Nor can one claim that the dog has been isolated from all other animals for any period of time, and has had every conceivable vaccination, or that it's country of origin is rabies free. It must still undergo quarantine. There are 72 registered quarantine kennels. These kennels house up to 60 dogs at a time, at an average cost of about £1,600 each. Last year over 10.000 dogs and cats went through the quarantine system. During all the years that the isolation method of prevention has been operative, there has never been one case in a dog of rabies in such a kennel during the six month quarantine period.
More recently a major exemption to the quarantine rule, has occurred as a direct result of the UK membership of the European Community. Now, certain dogs can be passed from kennels in the EC into kennels in the UK, without incurring the quarantine rule, but under very strict guidelines. These regulations (covering both dogs and cats), are contained in the document Council Directive 92/65/EEC of 13 July 1992, or as it is more commonly known the Balai Directive. Basically the dog must be part of a commercial transaction, and be supplied from a registered kennel. The animal must be clearly free from any contagious disease on the day that it is shipped, and must be identified by the use of an approved microchip. The important requirement is that the animal " must have been kept on the holding of origin since birth...(if)...moved off the premises of birth (e.g. to attend an animal show or to go for a walk, etc.) cannot be imported under these arrangements......(but can).....visit a veterinary practice so long as they are kept under restraint at all times. Any contact with wildlife is totally forbidden" The directive then goes on to list the various vaccinations that the animal is required to have had, and other details as to blood testing, and transportation. To underline the trading and commercial aspect of these rules the following note is issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) "Please note that the Balai Directive does not apply to pets and does not affect the free movement of rabies susceptible animals between the UK and the Republic of Island, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man".
So, apart from the totally irresponsible act of smuggling a dog into the UK, there are only two ways that a dog can be brought in, a) by a six month quarantine, or, b) via the terms of the Balai Directive.
Much of present discussion concentrates on the effect that quarantine may have on a dog held in solitary confinement for six months, and frequently to this is added a list of dogs that have, regrettably, died while so kennelled. This more emotive approach can obscure the fundamental aim of the quarantine rules, namely to prevent the introduction of rabies into this country. Politically, the proven certainty of quarantine is preferred so avoiding a repeat of the outbreaks of rabies that occurred after the first world war, and a repetition of the destruction of wild life that followed the Camberley incident. To set this in some form of context, the World Health Organisation estimated that in 1992 there were 36.000 deaths, world wide, due to rabies. But, the UK has remained free from this scourge for some seventy years
The main vector of rabies throughout the world is the dog. Although, in terms of wild life, the fox can be equally dangerous as a reservoir for the virus. The chief means of reducing the incidence of the disease is by vaccinating domestic animals. Many Western European countries have gone further with a programme of vaccinating the fox population, with an oral vaccine, and the published results are encouraging. France, for example has had no human deaths from rabies since 1924, and the number of animal cases, from whatever environment, have been dramatically reduced due to the vaccination of domestic animals, and oral vaccination of wild animals (Source. The International Rabies Meeting 1992).
I do not feel that we need to go into the more gory details of how the disease attacks it's victims, other than to say, that once the virus has caused encephalitis in a mammal, the disease is always lethal. The problems is, that the lag between infection and any clinical signs can be from a few days to weeks. In the case of dogs, quite healthy animals can have the virus present in their saliva, but show no signs that they are harbouring the deadly disease. These are the aspects of the debate that those in favour of retaining the quarantine system emphasis. But, an anti-rabies vaccine was developed by Pasteur in 1885. In the intervening years, scientist have refined this earlier treatment, so that by about 1971 they had produced an efficient and effective vaccination regime. Now both human and animal can be protected against rabies. However, scientists, at the time of Pasteur believed that they were facing a disease common to all susceptible animals. To-day we know that each vector carries a variant of rabies. Animals can be infected by a variant from another species, but not always susceptible to it's most rampant stages, yet possibly remain a carrier. UK scientists admit that there is little problem in controlling the dog rabies, the more worrying outbreak of the disease would be for the wild life. Yet, the most likely way that the wild life could be infected is from the importation of dogs. So if dogs can be effectively vaccinated against the disease, then the threat that dogs present to wild life can be easily removed, and by definition, cancelling the need for quarantine. But what if the disease were to be introduced into the fox population ?. These animals are no longer confined to the countryside, but are residing side by side with humans. Fox rabies is transferable to man. Do we take the risk ?.
It does appear that to continue arguing as if the problems, and our understandings, are the same as faced by our forefathers, is illogical. To persist in discussing the issue of human rabies and quarantine as though we were still in the early 1900s, when rabies was endemic in many countries, and the means of control comparatively primitive, prevents us from finding a modern solution. The biggest obstacle in much thinking is the understandable fear that rabies engenders: a fear reinforced by the government sponsored propaganda. Quarantine may have been effective in preventing a spread of dog related rabies, but, it cannot with any certainty, claim to have been solely responsible for protecting our countryside. Arguably, that protection has been provided, in part, by the UK status as an island, and isolation from the influx of rabies susceptible wild species from other countries. But, whatever the reasons, those in favour of abolishing the quarantine methods, and depending instead on a programme of vaccination, contend that we must bring our thinking up to date, and learn from other countries, especially the Scandinavian counties that had implemented a successful "passport" system . The contention is that provided a pet has been vaccinated, and produced antibodies, and can be reliably identified (by a microchip), then it should be able to move as freely from country to country, as it's owners. A Parliamentary Select Committee sitting in 1994, agreed that dogs and cats coming from countries largely free from rabies should not be required to undergo quarantine, provided they had had the necessary vaccinations, and blood test revealed the presence of the rabies antibodies. But the MAFF was not convinced: the Government erred on the side of caution and the retention of quarantine. Because of this outdated attitude, a group of influential people took up the cause, embraced the passport principle, and set up the "Passport for Pets" organisation. Supporters include Chris Patten and Elton John, the actress Liz Hurley and the newspaper owner Lord Rothermere. Added to these are some of the government's own scientists and advisors.
The UK Government is now caught in a cross fire of conflicting interests. Many powerful lobbying groups are putting forward advice, that frequently has more to do with self-interest than scientific logic. Undoubtedly, any Government that eases the quarantine rules, and there is a subsequent outbreak of rabies, will have committed near political suicide. Certainly, this administration does not want to repeat the fiasco of the Dangerous Dog Act. On a personal note, I sometimes consider that no one is speaking on behalf of the dog owning public. The Kennel Club, is still opposed to a relaxation of the present regulations, only canvas the views of it's limited membership. The veterinary profession, and the RSPCA, are not elected by, nor responsible to, the general public. And one must seriously question the representation of the Kennel Owners associations , who have most to lose if ever quarantine were abolished. Some time ago, I placed a message on the Net, in which I forecast that the rules would only change when Chris Patten, our Governor General of Hong Kong, was about to return to the UK with his two terriers, after the hand-over of the Crown Colony to China. As close friend of John Major, (and tipped as a possible success as Prime Minister), Chris Patten carries considerable clout at all levels of power. He is now speaking out against the quarantine Laws, and is calling for a more humane and sensible means of keeping these islands rabies free. Will he provide the pivot for a change that other people or events have failed to do ?
The incentive to smuggle pets into the UK, must be in part due to the high cost, the length of time that people are separated from their pets, and the many stories of the less then ideal conditions in some quarantine kennels. This is borne out by the fact that there are over 100 convictions each year for this offence. The normal fine is about £1000, a criminal record, and the animal still has to be quarantined or destroyed. However, the general feeling is that the majority of smugglers are not caught. If this is true, then our pets have been subjected to the risk of rabies for a great number of years. Yet, the disease has not been discovered. Would smuggling be less if quarantine were abolished ?
The real question facing the Government is, which of the available systems of keeping this country free from rabies presents the least risk. Quarantine without vaccination, but encouraging smuggling and the dangers that that presents, or a system of vaccination and verification, yet with the possibility that a dog could be brought in with false papers. You pays your money and takes your choice.
As a footnote. Some scientists on the continent are watching the migration of the Raccoon dog. This animal (Nyctereutes procyonoides, commonly called the tanuki) is a primitive member of canidae, so is a true dog. It is small, and resembles a cross between the raccoon and a badger. It's normal habitat is Eastern Asia and Japan, and feeds chiefly on fish and small animals. In the forties many were brought to Russia, mainly being farmed for it's fur, that was used in the uniforms of the Russian army. In the 1950s they were deliberately released into the wild. The tanuki has slowly spread, so that there are now fairly large populations in Russia, Poland and Finland. The problem is that the tanuki is now the second largest carrier of rabies in Poland and Russia. Because of it's diet, it could prove difficult to achieve rabies control with the use of an oral vaccine campaign