Rabies (once commonly referred to as Hydrophobia) is a distinctly horrifying disease which kills more than 50,000 people a year in Africa and Asia. Children are at greatest risk from rabies as they are more likely to be bitten by dogs, and are also more likely to be bitten in high-risk sites on the body, such as the head and neck.
The psychological impact of rabies can be enormous as the bite of a rabid dog can lead to months of anxiety while victims are unsure as to whether rabies may develop. This is particularly true for poor people living in remote and rural areas of Africa and Asia where availability of appropriate post-exposure vaccines and immunoglobulin is limited. The bite of rabid animals often causes horrific injuries even if rabies itself can be prevented by effective post-exposure prophylaxis.
Facts about rabies
- In the United States over the past 40 years, most of the reports of rabies have been in wild rather than domestic animals.
- Rabies is caused by a bullet-shaped virus (from the genus Lyssavirus) which attacks the Central Nervous System.
- Rabies is known to drive the infected violently insane.Thus it was one of the most feared ailments for early man.
- Many rabies cases are due to bites from domestic dogs, but all mammals can suffer from rabies and all can potentially transmit the virus to humans.
- Once the symptoms of rabies develop, it is almost always fatal.
- More than 55,000 people die of rabies every year in Africa and Asia.
- 60-70% of victims of rabies are children aged 5–15; probably 100 children die of the disease every day.
- Every rabies death is preventable with currently available vaccines.
- The first rabies vaccination was developed by Louis Pasteur and given to a boy badly bitten by a rabid dog on July 6, 1885. The boy survived.
- Rabies can be effectively controlled in animal populations by vaccination. If 70% of the animal population is vaccinated, human cases are eliminated.
- Wildlife populations can be threatened by rabies to the point of extinction. The rare Ethiopian wolf and the African wild dog are just 2 examples.
- In Mexico, just 5 years of a dog vaccination campaign reduced human rabies deaths from 60 per year to less than 20. Subsequently, cases have been almost eliminated.
With the tools and technologies to control rabies – principally canine rabies vaccination and human pre- and post-exposure vaccination, there are no excuses for tolerating 100 childhood deaths a day – all these deaths are preventable.
Rabies is a concern for animal welfare – fear of the disease results in hostile and antagonistic attitudes towards dogs and often inhumane approaches to dealing with rabid dogs within the community.
By promoting dog rabies vaccination, animal health professionals can eliminate the need for unnecessarily brutal forms of dog management.Most dogs are accessible for rabies vaccination campaigns.
Rabies poses a major and immediate threat to several of the world's most endangered wildlife populations. In the case of the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), the entire world population comprises only 500 individuals, and key populations have been decimated by successive outbreaks of rabies.