Canine rabies has been effectively eradicated in much of the developed world, and routine vaccination of pet dogs is the norm. In Africa, however, approximately 55,000 humans die from rabies each year, most as a result of bites or scratches from an infected domestic dog. India’s death rate from rabies averages 20,000 per year.
Dr. Tiziana Lembo, from the University of Glasgow, recently spoke at the World Small Animal Congress in England about the importance and feasibility of tackling canine rabies throughout Africa and Asia. The incidence of domestic dog rabies decreased significantly in parts of Latin America, Thailand, Morocco, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Iran when targeted vaccination programs were implemented. These vaccination programs have proven more effective than simply culling dogs, and less costly than human rabies prophylaxis.
Why Eliminating Rabies in Dogs is Important to People
According the World Health Organization, more than 55,000 people die of rabies each year, with domestic dogs the source of 99% of the exposure. Of people who die from rabies, 95% are in Asia and Africa, despite the virus’ presence on every continent except Antarctica.
Rabies is transmitted through close contact with infected saliva, usually through bite wounds or scratches. Most victims must also be treated for the multiple bite wounds that generally occur during exposure to rabid dogs. More than 15 million people worldwide receive post-exposure treatment. In addition, the cost of human rabies vaccines, approximately 40 USD per dose, remains high, while canine rabies vaccines cost less than 10 USD per dose.
What About the Role of Wild Animals in Rabies Transmission?
Some of the known wild rabies vector species in Africa and Asia include jackals, mongoose, civets, bat-eared foxes and raccoon dogs. However, people rarely die from exposure to rabid wild animals. This may be because wild animals, even ones with rabies, are much less likely than a domestic dog to be near enough to bite a human.
A1998 study of rabies in Zimbabwe by Rhodes, et al. indicated that wild jackal populations were not large enough to be a self-sustaining rabies reservoir but that many outbreaks of rabies in jackals followed outbreaks in domestic dogs. Domestic canine rabies carriers also pose a very real threat to endangered Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis) and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus).
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