Rabies in France: Old preoccupation, new crisis

By Franck Foures

English

In August 2004, for the first time, France experienced a public health crisis triggered by the entry of a rabid dog within its borders. In the past, similar events had remained confined within the professional community. To shed light on the onset of this first public rabies crisis, this paper shows how the transformation of a “business-as-usual” professional problem into a bona fide public health crisis may be interpreted as a sudden renegotiation of the historical compromise which previously existed around the management of rabies. Public health changes and reorganizations which had occurred prior to this episode allowed human health authorities to reposition themselves at the center of the rabies management programs, when they used to remain at their periphery. By reformatting crisis perception and allowing the emergence of new specific rabies-related expertise, a series of health-related crises, from the 2003 heat wave to various rabies alerts, triggered the transformation of a rabies alert into a public health crisis. Furthermore, confronting various action frameworks played a part in modifying the perception and analysis of the August 2004 alert, thus contributing to the radicalization of implemented management decisions. Thus, to understand the August 2004 rabies crisis, it is necessary to consider it both within the history of rabies as a public concern, as well as within the larger moving landscape of health crisis management as a whole.

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