Because rabies has been detected in a Svalbard reindeer, the Governor conveys advice which the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and the Governor has received from the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Veterinary Institute. The advice is targeted at hunters who plan to hunt for reindeer or to have other forms of contact with game, and gives direction on precautionary measures.

On 29 July, the Governor received confirmation from the Veterinary Institute that rabies had been detected in a female reindeer that was put down outside Ny-Ålesund. Additionally, rabies was detected in a polar fox that was put down on Hopen in April. As a result, the Governor contacted professional authorities in order to consider cancelling the reindeer hunt in 2018.

Rabies is a fatal disease for humans and warm blooded animals. The disease can be prevented through vaccination, but it is not treatable once the infected person starts to display clinical symptoms.

The rabies virus is primarily transferred through animal bites, or when an infected animal licks a wound or tear in the skin. The virus concentration in infected animals is higher in the brain, the spinal cord, the salivary glands and in the saliva. Saliva may be contagious if it comes into contact with damaged skin (wounds/tears), the eyes or the mucous lining of the mouth or nose. Additionally, the brain and spinal cord from these animals are contagious.  

The Governor has decided that for the hunting season of 2018, reindeer jaws should not be collected and delivered in accordance with previous practice.

The Governor has had regular contact with the Food Safety Authority, the Directorate of Health, the Institute of Public Health and the Veterinary Institute as professial authorities in this matter. This dialogue has not provided formal grounds for the Governor to stop the 2018 reindeer hunt. However, the Institute of Public Health and the Veterinary Institute have offered advice on which precautionary measures to take in connection to the reindeer hunt. This advice includes:

Before the hunt

  • Everyone participating in the hunt should be fully vaccinated against rabies. If more than two years have passed since the vaccination (full vaccination or booster), you should complete an examination for antibodies to see if the vaccine still provides protection, or receive a booster vaccine at least 7 days before participating in the hunt. You can read more about vaccination against rabies on the webpages of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
  • Hunters who have not been previously vaccinated and hunters who have been previously vaccinated, but who do not receive an extra booster dose or do not have a satisfactory level of antibodies, are advised to refrain from participating in the hunt. Persons who are not fully vaccinated will have limited protection from rabies. Protection is gradually built up after receiving the first dose, but full effect is obtained seven days after the final dose.
  • Persons with a compromised immune system may have uncertain effect from the vaccine, and should not take part in this year’s hunt.

During the hunt

  • Only animals displaying normal behaviour should be hunted. Avoid animals who do not show fear of humans, wander aimlessly around, are desoriented, seem ill, are paralysed or partly paralysed.
  • Meat and tissue from visibly sick animals or animals displaying unusual behaviour should not be handled.
  • If hunters observe dead or sick animals, or animals displaying unusual behaviour, this should be reported to the Governor. The Governor will evaluate whether the animal should be put down and examined for rabies.
  • Regardless of whether or not you are vaccinated, everyone who are exposed to contagious matter should contact the health services as soon as possible. Rabies is a fatal disease.

During slaughter

  • Do not eat, drink or smoke during slaughter.
  • The brain, spinal cord and salivary glands (located near the jaw) of an animal infected with rabies contain large amounts of the virus. Do not touch the mouth of the animal, its brain or spinal cord. Avoid separating the head from the body or cutting into the head. The head should not be brought home. The spinal cord must not be opened or split. The jaw should not be removed during this year’s hunt, because it involves handling of the oral cavity and cutting around the salivary glands which may be contagious.
  • Use protective goggles and plastic gloves when slaughtering and handling the meat and tissue. This may contribute to avoiding wounds and cuts, and that contagious matter comes into contact with wounds and mucous linings.

After slaughter

  • Rinsing your hands thoroughly with soap and water is important in order to reduce the chance of infection. This advice is valid regardless of whether or not you happen to cut yourself during slaughter.
  • Clean knives with soap and water immediately after contact with the spinal cord or brain and between slaughter, and disinfect the knives. Hunters should have several knives so that knives that have been in contact with the mentioned risk material are not used for preparing the rest of the meat if disinfection is not possible.
  • Clean and disinfect gloves and tools after slaughtering. Use 1% Virkon S, or put it in a solution of 1:20 household chlorine for 20 minutes.
  • Waste from slaughtering should be buried where possible. Alternatively, the waste should be covered with rocks.

Cooking the meat

  • Use gloves when preparing the meat at home, and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards. Disinfect kitchen utensils and the kitchen counter using chlorine.
  • Reindeer meat must be thorougly cooked or fried all the way through before it can be consumed as food for people or animals. Heat destroys the rabies virus. Freezing does not, so exercise caution when defrosting the meat.

For additional information, please see the attached guidelines from the Institute of Public Health and from the Veterinary Institute.