CDC Responds to a Case of Rabies in an Imported Dog

six stray dogs

In June 2021, CDC was notified about a dog in Pennsylvania that tested positive for rabies. The dog was among a group of 33 dogs and one cat imported into the U.S. from Azerbaijan by an animal rescue group. CDC coordinated a response to this case with multiple state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Public Health officials identified at least 19 people and 36 animals who were exposed to the rabid dog. Everyone in contact with the dog started postexposure prophylaxis to protect them from developing rabies. CDC testing indicated that the rabid dog was infected with rabies in Azerbaijan before it arrived in the U.S. Due to quick action by state and federal partners, no additional rabies cases in people or animals occurred and the U.S. is still considered free of dog-mediated human rabies.

In the United States, dogs make up only about 1% of rabid animals reported each year because dogs are required to receive rabies vaccines.  In fact, the United States is considered free of canine rabies, because this variant of rabies virus no longer circulates here. However, rabid dogs remain common in many countries. Exposure to rabid dogs is still the cause of nearly all rabies deaths in people worldwide, which are estimated at 59,000 deaths each year. And when dogs carrying canine rabies strains are imported to the United States, they risk sharing this dangerous virus with other animals and people, and jeopardize the canine rabies-free status of the U.S.

The imported rabid dog arrived in the U.S. days before CDC issued a temporary suspension of dog importation due to an alarming rise in dogs imported with falsified rabies vaccination records. The suspension went into effect on July 14 and adds additional requirements for dogs coming into the U.S. from countries with a high risk of dog rabies. Cases like the one described here help to inform best practices for rabies prevention, including future changes to a permanent importation policy that allows for the safe movement of dogs into the U.S.