The decision will affect dog rescue missions, dog breeder imports and people bringing pets, the CDC said.
This is because of a combination of factors – the pandemic, a lack of facilities to safely quarantine dogs and three recent incidents of infected dogs that have been brought into the country, the CDC said.
“This suspension applies to all dogs, including puppies, emotional support dogs, and dogs that have traveled outside of the United States and are returning from a high-risk country,” the CDC said in a statement. .
“This action is necessary to ensure the health and safety of dogs imported into the United States and to protect public health against the reintroduction of variants of the canine rabies virus (canine rabies). The suspension is temporary and will be reviewed periodically. “
Rabies is the deadliest virus known to humans and dogs. There is no reliable cure, although vaccines can prevent it after exposure.
“If these dogs from high-risk countries have not been properly vaccinated, there is a risk that they could bring it into the country,” Dr. Emily Pieracci, veterinarian in the division, told CNN. Global Migration and Quarantine CDC.
“I think it is important to stress that this is a temporary suspension. We recognize that this is not the long term solution,” she said. The initial suspension is expected to be 12 months, she said.
But, she said, the pandemic has disrupted vaccination programs for animals and humans, and the risk of bringing a dog infected with rabies is greater than ever before.
In addition, CDC resources are limited and it will be difficult to inspect documents and animals at points of entry when CDC experts are needed for other matters.
And the CDC isn’t the only organization stretching. “The pandemic has created a dangerous environment for dogs,” Pieracci said. With fewer scheduled flights and fewer staff at airports, dogs often waited for long periods in their cages in unsafe conditions, especially if they were rejected because owners couldn’t prove they had been properly vaccinated. .
“They had to face long and prolonged waiting times before being returned to their country of origin,” she said. Some were sick and some even died.
Unlike countries like Britain which regularly quarantine imported animals to ensure they are not infected with rabies, the United States does not have secure quarantine facilities for imported dogs.
The suspension will affect dog rescue missions and could affect soldiers bringing rescue dogs from Afghanistan, Pieracci said.
“There are a limited number of exemptions for Department of Defense personnel who move to the United States and move their pets. It is not for them to bring rescue dogs back,” he said. she declared.
But they will have to apply for the exemption and follow strict protocols. This will include certifying vaccination certificates and obtaining a blood test for the dog to show it has antibodies to rabies. “We’re going to make sure the dogs are microchipped so the dogs aren’t turned off at the last minute,” Pieracci said.
Rabies is not a trivial concern. It kills over 99% of people known to have been infected. Once people start showing symptoms, they are almost certain to die. Only a very small number of children were saved thanks to a complex treatment regime.
“Due to underreporting and uncertain estimates, this number is likely a gross underestimate,” the WHO said.
The CDC declared the United States free from dog rabies in 2007. It is just one strain of rabies; strains infecting bats, raccoons, and other animals remain common in the United States, and just about any strain can infect any mammal.
“It could cost millions of dollars to take him out again,” Pieracci said. In the United States, one to three human cases are reported each year, mostly people infected with bats.
The United States requires proof of rabies vaccination to import animals from countries where the virus still circulates, but a few have escaped.
“Since 2015, there have been three separate imports of rabid dogs. All of these dogs were rescue dogs that had what appeared to be valid rabies vaccination certification on import,” Pieracci said.
Each case cost public health officials $ 500,000 to locate and track any person or animal that may have been exposed to the dogs, the CDC said.
“A number of dogs have been in contact with the rabid dogs and had to be quarantined for four to six months,” Pieracci said. “It is a very expensive and time consuming event every time a rabid dog has been imported.”
Rabies is transmitted through saliva. Vaccination can prevent symptoms if the vaccine is given on time, but once symptoms start there is almost no hope.
The suspension will only affect about 6% of the approximately one million dogs imported into the United States.
“It won’t affect most people who want to travel with their dogs,” Pieracci said.
“We’re animal lovers. We support people who want to import dogs from overseas, but we really want to make sure it’s done safely. It’s not our end goal. We don’t want it to be. either the permanent response, “she added. .
“But we need time to find a better system to make sure rabies doesn’t get back into the United States.”
The CDC suspension will be published in the Federal Register and a 30-day comment period will extend until July 14 before the suspension takes effect.