New rabies quarantine rules approved

HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige on Tuesday signed revised rules for the state’s rabies quarantine program which prevents the introduction of the rabies virus into Hawaii.

The main changes reduce the waiting periods for those following the 5 Day or Less Rabies Quarantine Program, which allows pets to avoid actual physical quarantine in Hawaii by following a strict protocol of required rabies vaccinations and blood testing.

The new rules go into effect on Aug. 31. The new rules were approved by the Hawaii Board of Agriculture on May 29, after public hearings were held statewide.

Under previous rules, there was a waiting period of 120 days after the blood antibody test and a waiting period of 90 days from the last rabies vaccination before arriving in Hawaii. The new rules lessen those waiting periods to 30 days for both requirements. This rule change only affects the 5 Day or Less program. Pets that do not comply with the requirements of that program are still subject to the full 120-day quarantine if transported to Hawaii.

“It is vitally important that we protect our state from the introduction of rabies, not only for animal health, but human health,” said Gov. Ige. “These quarantine rule changes have been researched to maintain adequate safeguards to keep rabies and other tick-borne diseases out of Hawaii.”

“Many may not realize the importance of the quarantine program since we don’t have to worry about rabies because we live in the only state that is rabies-free,” said Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “Over the years, the Department of Agriculture has continuously considered ways to make the process less burdensome for pet owners, while preserving the integrity of the quarantine program.”

In 2017, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture processed more than 16,500 dogs and cats entering Hawaii, of which 90 percent were qualified to be released at the airport.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. However, in 2015, about eight percent of the rabies cases involved dog and cats.

According to the CDC, human rabies deaths are rare in the U,S.; however, the estimated public health costs associated with disease detection, prevention, and control is estimated at up to $500 million annually. These costs include the mandatory vaccination of animals, animal control programs, maintenance of rabies laboratories, and medical costs, for postexposure treatment. Globally, it is estimated that there are 59,000 human deaths due to rabies.

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