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Rabies outbreak threatens French border

Germany has been accused of negligence and incompetence by its neighbour France for failing to tackle an outbreak of rabies that is threatening to spread across Europe.

The outbreak, which began in the state of Hessen, has reached almost epidemic proportions with dozens of rabid foxes - the main carriers of the disease - reported in recent months.

To the fury of the French, who have spent millions of euros on an eradication programme, German health officials announced that the first cases could turn up in France this month.

The news has alarmed France's tourism chiefs as they gear up for the summer influx of visitors. About 75 million tourists visited the country last year, nearly 15 million of them Britons.

French officials have laid 80,000 fishmeal briquettes baited with a rabies vaccine along the German border.

In Germany's worst-affected state, Rheinland-Pfalz, which borders Belgium,
France and Luxembourg, 25 rabid foxes have been killed this year alone.

With the exception of Poland, all Germany's neighbours have invested heavily in vaccination programmes. They are now concerned that rabid animals will cross their borders and re-introduce the lethal disease.

Germany first admitted that it had lost control of rabies at the start of the year, two months after the first reported case in Hessen in November. A disease prevention officer for the local ministry of environmental affairs and forestry, admitted that the were wrong to think that the Rhine would be a natural barrier.

The Germans, said French officials, were using a vaccine which was not approved by the World Health Organisation, and was so temperature-sensitive that it easily became ineffective.

Despite French concerns, the Germans are persisting with their approach. Two weeks ago, they dropped a further 100,000 vaccine baits from the air and distributed 30,000 more by hand in Hessen alone.

Critics accuse Germany of being too slow to co-ordinate its anti-rabies efforts. Its strategy is now being supervised by Dr Thomas Mueller, head of a WHO laboratory at the German Research Institute for Animal Health in Wusterhausen. He had admitted that German officials "simply forgot" to distribute vaccine by hand in Hessen.

He also conceded that only after EU inspectors went to Hessen was it discovered that the expensive vaccine was not being stored properly, rendering it useless.

While Mr Mueller is optimistic that the disease can be contained, the French are bracing themselves for infection.

Rabid bat found in Manchester

A Daubenton bat infected with a rare form of rabies has been found in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester.

The bat died after flying into a tree and was picked up by a passer-by. Health bosses confirmed that the bat, only the fourth in Britain to be found infected with the potentially-fatal disease in the last two decades, was carrying the strain of rabies, fortunately very uncommon in the UK bat population.

The bat was handled by the passer-by and three professional bat workers who have since been vaccinated against rabies, though only as a precautionary measure, and all are infection free.

Daubenton bats nest near rivers and water rather than in the eaves of peoples homes so the Health Protection Authority in the north west are urging the public not to panic but would ask anyone who might find a dead or injured bat not to handle it themselves but to report it to the relevant authorities.