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Answers at a recent question say that Germany has been rabies free since 2008. My first response was how could that even be possible, must be some significant border protection that keeps wild animals from crossing.

So if you look at the CDC site Rabies-Free Countries and Political Units

Dogs may be imported without a valid rabies vaccination certificate if they have lived for a minimum of 6 months, or since birth, in a country that is considered by CDC to be free of rabies in land animals, as listed below.

And goes on to identify those countries, of which Germany and it's neighbor Czech Republic are both listed. (presumably this is consistent across all of Europe, not just these two Countries)

Europe: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Azores, Balearic Islands, Belgium, Cabrera, Channel Islands, Corsica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Formentera, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Ibiza, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Majorca, Malta, Minorca, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway (except Svalbard), Portugal, San Marino, Spain (except Ceuta and Melilla), Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

BUT if you look at the individual countries on the CDC site such as Germany or the Czech Republic it says,

Health Information for Travelers to Germany, Traveler View

Rabies is present in bats in Germany. However, it is not a major risk to most travelers. CDC recommends rabies vaccine for only these groups:

Travelers involved in outdoor and other activities in remote areas that put them at risk for bat bites (such as adventure travel and caving).

People who will be working with or around bats (such as wildlife professionals and researchers).

While most bats don't have rabies... Rabies in humans is rare in the United States. There are usually only one or two human cases per year. But the most common source of human rabies in the United States is from bats.

So it seems like these areas are Rabies free, as long as you don't go outdoors.

Is Germany or any of Europe "really" rabies free?

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    Not intending to give bats a bad rap here, so if you do have concerns read Rabies Info at Bat World – James Jenkins Nov 29 '17 at 13:47
  • If Germany was Rabies free, then why would they need signs as shown in this question: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/17767/… – B540Glenn Nov 29 '17 at 17:02
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    @B540Glenn most of the answers at that question, indicate the signs were not removed when Rabies was "eradicated" in Germany. – James Jenkins Nov 29 '17 at 17:24
  • To answer the part any of Europe really rabies free? the UK has been rabies free since 1922 (and were still in Europe for the time being at least). The UK has no land borders. Any animal entering the UK must go though quarantine. So it's relatively simple for us. – Liam Dec 5 '17 at 13:52
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    @Liam now you made me ask a new question Has a person ever got rabies from a marine mammal? – James Jenkins Dec 5 '17 at 15:03
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As your travel advisory links state, the ‘rabies-free’ designation ignores bats. This is also mentioned on the CDC list of rabies-free countries which you link to:

The countries on this list are those that have not reported recent cases of rabies in land animals and that have adequate disease surveillance for rabies cases as determined by CDC. Countries on this list might still have circulating bat lyssaviruses, which can cause the disease, rabies, in people.

So in that sense, very few territories are absolutely rabies-free. Antarctica qualifies, as does New Zealand, and various smaller islands. Australia could be argued to be rabies-free on a technicality since it lacks the classical strain of the rabies virus, but the Australian bat lyssavirus is indistinguishable in its effects and The Australian Department of Health considers that ‘the term “rabies” refers to disease caused by any of the known lyssavirus species’.

So it seems like these areas are Rabies free, as long as you don't go outdoors.

If you're going to be strict about it: no, not even if you stay indoors, because a bat may fly in through the window and bite you. And even if you're in Antarctica, there's a tiny chance that a bat may somehow evade the strict quarantine procedures, fly out of a packing crate, and bite you.

So why do the CDC have a ‘rabies-free’ designation? Most probably because it’s a convenient approximation. Bats aren’t particularly interested in biting humans. For most people, the risk of contracting rabies from a bat bite is vanishingly tiny. It makes sense to distinguish between countries where contracting rabies is a real, plausible danger and those where it’s less likely than being struck by lightning.

A lot of terminology works like this. There are many drinks we designate as ‘alcohol-free’, despite the fact that nearly all foods and drinks contain at least trace amounts of ethanol. As in the case of ‘rabies-free’, it’s a term that’s used to help people make practical decisions, rather than to satisfy a strict mathematical definition.

  • Just as a side note/anecdote: This summer there was one case where a person was bitten by a rabies infected bat in Switzerland – the first case since several decades. – Benedikt Bauer Nov 29 '17 at 20:21
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    Oceania is rabies free. Within Oceania are New Zealand which has never had rabies. and the entire continent of Australia (which does have a closely related virus in its bat population that transmits to humans.) (Source Wikipedia). Along with many island nations, which are probably outside the inference of "a few small, remote islands" – user5330 Nov 29 '17 at 21:44
  • @mattnz Thanks for the correction! I have updated the answer. NZ seems a clear-cut case. Regarding Australia, many sources do seem to refer to their disease as ‘rabies’, and I've tried to cover this fairly in the edited answer. – Pont Nov 30 '17 at 7:34

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