National Reference Centre / FAO Reference Centre for Rabies

National reference laboratory / FAO reference centre for rabies

IZSVe has been active in rabies control since 1977, when a Europe-wide WHO Programme for Rabies Surveillance was established ( The Centre gained extensive experience in the oral vaccination of foxes, which was carried out for the first time in Italy in 1984, alongside laboratory rabies diagnosis.

IZSVe was designated by the Italian Ministry of Health as the National Reference Centre for Rabies in May 2002 and appointed as an United Nations FAO Reference Centre for Rabies in December 2012. The Centre has been authorized by the WOAH/WHO (1995), DEFRA (UK) (1999) and, more recently, by the EU (decision 2001/296/EC) to test the effectiveness of rabies vaccination in domestic carnivores by in vitro antibody testing.

IZSVe is accredited according to 17025 ISO standards. All testing is performed according to international guidelines (WOAH, WHO). In addition, the following tests have been officially accredited by “Accredia”, the Italian National Accreditation Body:

  • Fluorescent antibody test (FAT)
  • Rapid tissue culture infection test (RTCIT)
  • Fluorescent antibody virus neutralisation test (FAVN)
Activities and servicesEpidemiological situationContacts

Activities and services

The institutional activities carried out by the National and FAO Reference Centre are listed below:

  • rabies diagnosis and surveillance in wild and domestic animals
  • rabies antibody titration in animals and humans
  • characterization of rabies isolates
  • confirmatory diagnoses made by other laboratories
  • assistance and information to the Ministry of Health regarding rabies control and prevention in animals and humans, as well as regulatory aspects
  • data collection at the national level and for the WHO Rabies Bulletin Europe
  • preparation of programmes of oral rabies vaccination of red foxes
  • monitoring of oral rabies vaccination campaigns in the red fox population
  • standardization of laboratory tests among the regional rabies laboratories and organization of national interlaboratory trials for rabies diagnosis
  • participation in international interlaboratory trials for rabies diagnosis and antibody titration
  • collaboration with other EU or international reference centres
  • national and international training and education sessions dedicated to laboratory staff and veterinary practitioners
  • collaboration with first aid units and infectious diseases departments for rabies diagnosis and epidemiological investigations related to human exposure and suspected cases
  • research activity in the field of rabies epidemiology and control in wildlife, rabies virus characterization, rabies virus dynamics
  • international collaboration in the framework of EU projects
Rabies antiboy titration service »
FAO Reference Centre mandate of technical assistance to FAO beneficiary countries
  • Confirmation of rabies diagnosis in accordance with international recommended diagnostic protocols (WHO-WOAH)
  • Collaboration on design and implementation of rabies surveillance programmes and vaccine efficacy monitoring programmes
  • Collaboration in research activities
  • Support to FAO activities for rabies prevention and control, including active participation in World Rabies Day (
  • Contribution to improvement and harmonization of laboratory diagnostic capacities, including supply of reference materials and organization of interlaboratory proficiency testing, if necessary
  • Dissemination of information on innovative vaccines or new vaccination strategies and development of new diagnostic tools
  • Contribution to ecological studies on rabies wild and domestic reservoirs
Diagnostic capabilities

  • Fluorescent antibody test (FAT)
  • One-Step Reverse Transcriptase -Polymerase Chain Reaction (One –Step RT-PCR)
  • One-Step Real-Time RT-PCR (One-Step rRT-PCR)
  • Sanger sequencing and pyrosequencing
  • Rabies tissue culture infection test (RTCIT)
  • Direct Rapid Immunohistochemical test (dRIT)
  • Sandwich ELISA for antigen detection (under development and evaluation, to be used as screening test in limited laboratory conditions)
  • Rapid chromatographic immunoassay for antigen detection
  • Fluorescent antibody virus neutralization test (FAVN)
  • Rapid fluorescent focus inhibition test (RFFIT)
  • Vaccine bait titration
  • Tetracycline determination on fox teeth and jaws

Epidemiological situation

Italy has recently regained the status of a terrestrial rabies-free country. A national rabies surveillance programme and preventive oral rabies vaccination campaigns targeting the red fox population are implemented on a regular basis.

The north-eastern territories of Italy were affected by rabies in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as between 1991-1995. More recently, an outbreak occured between the end of 2008 and early 2011. Italy regained its rabies-free status in February 2013, with the last case being detected in February 2011. During the 2008-2011 epidemic, a total of 287 rabies cases were confirmed in animals, but no associated human cases were recorded. Infections predominantly affected the red fox population, with occasional spill-overs into other wild species and domestic animals.

The risk of rabies re-introduction into Italy from the bordering areas has long been recognised. Molecular studies related to the 2008-2011 Italian rabies circulation in red foxes revealed that, as with previous rabies epidemics, the latest Italian epidemic had been linked to the epidemiological situation in the adjacent regions. Two viral genetic groups were identified (Italy-1 and Italy-2), both belonging to the Western European clade. Phylogenetic and phylogeographic analyses also revealed that both groups had been circulating in the Western Balkans and Slovenia in previous years and were only later introduced into Italy (Fusaro et al., 2013).

The new epidemiological evidence prompted the introduction of an emergency programme of oral vaccination of foxes according to European guidelines, mandatory vaccination of domestic dogs and heightened disease surveillance by veterinary authorities in wild and domestic animals in affected areas. At the same time, officials initiated regional public health campaigns to increase awareness of both human and animal health risks.

The Reference Centre gathers epidemiological data, which is transmitted to the national authorities and to the WHO Collaboration Centre for Rabies Surveillance, available at


Paola De Benedictis
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Phone: +39 049 8084369-371

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