WHO Rabies - Bulletin - Europe
Rabies Information System of the
WHO Collaboration Centre for Rabies Surveillance and Research
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Thirty years of WHO Rabies Bulletin Europe
- a reflection -

F.X. Meslin
World Health Organization (WHO), Department of Communicable Diseases, Geneva, Switzerland

The fox rabies epizootic which started in the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland and Lithuania in 1940s had spread to most countries of East, Central and Western Europe by the middle of the 1970s, regardless of natural or administrative borders. The front wave of this epizootic caused an enormous increase in rabies cases leading to great concern among public and veterinary health authorities in Europe. Based on the recommendations of the Sixth Report of the WHO Expert Committee held in 1973 (Technical Report Series No 523) the WHO, in prior consultation with the German Ministry of Health appointed the national reference laboratory for rabies in Tübingen, Germany as WHO Collaborating Centre for Rabies Surveillance and Research in 1974. One of the terms of references was the establishment of a Europe-wide rabies surveillance programme. In this respect the WHO/CC in Tübingen organized a consultation on the establishment of a European database on rabies. At this meeting held in Tübingen in March 1975, CVOs of 10 European Countries, representatives of WHO, OIE and experts in rabies epidemiology and computing recommended a European computerized database be put into place. The framework for such database was set, including archiving all human and animal rabies cases, reporting of epidemiological trends on a regular basis, drawing maps of rabies data and regularly disseminating rabies data among European countries. A data submission was introduced asking health – and veterinary authorities from 27 different European countries for rabies data on a quarterly basis. In 1977, the first issue of the WHO Rabies Bulletin Europe was published and distributed to rabies related authorities all over the world. This was the start of a unique source of data and information on a fatal zoonosis, e.g. rabies for a certain part of the world. Besides the information on rabies presented in tables, maps with short comments from reporting countries, a section named “Miscellaneous articles” was also introduced. The RBE had always intended to promote trans-border cooperation in rabies surveillance and control. Before 1989 rabies experts on both sides of the border could use the "miscellaneous articles" section to swiftly share relevant information on this important disease and present their research findings. Though not considered a peer-reviewed scientific journal, in total, during the last 30 years more than 150 of such articles have been published in the RBE and have been cited in many papers on rabies in Europe. The articles covered a wide variety of rabies related topics, spanning from rabies situations in special geographical regions, human rabies case studies, problems in rabies control, and conference proceedings to trends in rabies research and molecular biology of the rabies virus. The use of oral rabies vaccination (ORV) of foxes has been continuously monitored and assessed by the RBE since its first field trial which took place almost 30 years ago. During the1980s areas where such field trials were conducted were mapped and reported about in the RBE.

As the internet was becoming the medium for sharing of topical information, the RBE was published online in 1994 for the first time. The journal was available as HTML as well as in PDF. All electronically published journals were stored in a special archive for further access. This online version was renewed in 2006 when it evolved from a static display of information to a dynamic rabies data query system. Online production of rabies maps as well as trend tables and summaries was made possible. To reflect the increasing demand in information, a new static section was also implemented in the web version.

The WHO CC for Rabies Surveillance and Research will further develop the RBE in the future. Particular objectives are the online submission of rabies data, the retrospective documentation of ORV vaccination areas in Europe and the submission of the number of animals tested by species-on a more regular basis. The latter is to allow (i) comparison of the level of surveillance, (ii) analysis of rabies incidences and (iii) improvement of rabies control throughout Europe. Another big objective is to involve countries from Transcaucasia and central Asia, which are part of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. This 30th anniversary is also an opportunity for the RBE to express its appreciation to all people who contributed to the development and improvement of the database –from hunters in the field to laboratory staff and health and veterinary officers in many countries that have forwarded information to the WHO CC in Wusterhausen for data collation, processing and analysis by its excellent technical staff. Their continued collaboration made it a unique and pivotal source of rabies information, which is increasingly referred to since it all started 30 years ago. This European Rabies Surveillance system would not have been possible without the sustained financial assistance of the German Ministry of Health. WHO would like to take this opportunity to express its great appreciation to the German Ministry of Health for is continued collaboration and support.

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