A Shar-Pei dog.
A Shar-Pei dog. Photo by Rodrigo de Almeida
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Fears of a widespread outbreak of rabies in the north are growing, after a three-week search has failed to locate a dog thought to be carrying the disease.

The dog, a Pekingese from Kibbutz Kfar Szold, was bitten three weeks ago by another dog known to have rabies. Because the Pekingese hadn't been vaccinated in three years, she almost certainly contracted the disease and can now spread it to others, both animals and humans.

"This is a scandalous incident," said Dr. Roni Ozeri, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary services department. "It's clear the bitten dog is infected, and this is a real danger to human life. This is an incurable disease - it isn't the flu."

On Tuesday, the ministry sent a letter to all veterinarians around the country urging them to be on the alert for rabies. Noting that the owners have not turned the Pekingese in to the local authorities as required by law, the letter warned, "we can't rule out the possibility that the dog was sent somewhere else or is being cared for by someone else."

A joint investigation by police and the ministry has thus far produced no leads. "The dog 'disappeared' without a trace," the letter said.

This is the 11th known case of rabies since the beginning of the year. All took place in the north, mainly in the Upper Galilee or the Golan Heights.

This is actually an improvement over the previous three years, which saw 30 to 58 rabies cases a year. But it's far worse than the norm until 2009, which was nine to 12 cases a year.

Ozeri said one of the biggest problems is that despite the deadly nature of the disease - once caught, rabies causes certain death - some owners still don't vaccinate their dogs.

While rabies can infect any mammal, no human beings have died of the disease in Israel since 2002.