Newfoundland and Labrador's chief veterinary officer says a significant and widespread outbreak of rabies in Labrador is cause for concern.

The province's Natural Resources Department has confirmed 16 cases of rabies in red foxes since January, 12 of which were found in Labrador City and Wabush.

Prior to this year, the last confirmed case was in 2005.

But chief veterinary officer Doctor Hugh Whitney says it's not only the number of cases that is worrisome, but also how widespread the disease is across Labrador.

Whitney says that 10 people have been vaccinated for exposure to rabies this year for incidents ranging from bites to handling the carcasses.

Whitney says the disease's seven-year absence is not unusual, as outbreaks run in cycles.

But officials have little foresight, as a number of factors makes it difficult to predict when the next outbreak will happen.

He says an outbreak occurs when Artic foxes travel down to Labrador and infect red foxes.

Whitney says if the red fox population is high and food is scarce, the diseased animals will start moving away from the woods and into communities.