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Human and Dog Rabies Could Be Wiped Out

Human and Dog Rabies Could Be Wiped Out

Did you know that rabies is one of the deadliest diseases in the world? It is a serious viral infection that can be carried by most mammals, affecting the brain and nervous system.

When the symptoms have developed, a person might become aggressive, suffering from hallucinations and fever, and producing excess saliva. And the disease will then be most certainly fatal, with an almost 100% case fatality rate.

The majority of human cases come from being bitten by a dog with the virus, but there is a canine rabies vaccine. And yet almost 70,000 people every year still die after contracting rabies, worldwide. That’s 190 people every day.

But a report from an international team of researchers has been published in Science that suggests that human deaths from rabies could be completely wiped out. This could be done through a worldwide dog vaccination programme, which the team believes is not only achievable but also cost-effective.

The success of a similar programme being carried out in villages in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania has helped back this conclusion. Since 2003, around a thousand rabies vaccinations have been performed each year on domestic dogs across 180 villages. This has led to the number of rabies-related deaths in the region to fall from 50 to almost none per year.

Report co-author Dr Guy Palmer, director of Washington State University’s Paul G Allen School for Global Animal Health, said that the team has been focusing on zoonotics, which are diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

“The tendency to compartmentalise diseases as if they are only human or only animal means some important problems are neglected,” he said. He explained that rabies is a perfect example of such a problem because it falls into both categories.

“[Rabies] doesn’t have a major economic impact on livestock so ministries of agriculture ignore it. It doesn’t rise to the same level of burden as many other human diseases, so ministries of health ignore it,” said Dr Palmer.

Although rabies is routinely found in wildlife in the US, there are almost no human cases of the disease because the domestic dog population is vaccinated, and the UK has no rabies at all.

The report indicates that rabies cannot be totally eradicated like smallpox was, purely because it can be carried by so many different types of animal, including bats. However, because the main source of human rabies is infected domestic dogs, it could be completely wiped out, simply by vaccinating the domestic dogs of the world.

“There is now convincing evidence that vaccination of dogs would eliminate greater than 98% of the rabies health burden globally,” concluded Dr Palmer.

Not only would the people of the world be safe from one of the most fatal diseases known to mankind – effectively saving 70,000 lives every year – but our beloved dogs would be, too. Win, win.


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