Rabies Virus is a Global Disease

Rabies Virus is a Global Disease

Posted on Jul 20, 2012 by admin

Dr. Murrell vaccinating dogs against rabies in Uganda
Above: Dr. Murrell vaccinating a dog against Rabies in Africa

Rabies is a viral disease in mammals that causes inflammation of the brain and without post-exposure treatment, is invariably followed by death. Most commonly rabies is transmitted by a bite from an infected animal, but occasionally it is transmitted by other forms of contact (i.e. saliva in an open wound).

For many people in the United States, rabies is considered little more than a vaccination given to their cats and dogs by their veterinarian. Beyond that, little thought is given to rabies.

Within the United States, the animals that typically transmit rabies are raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. Since cats and dogs are legally required to be vaccinated against rabies (even indoor cats should be vaccinated), a known exposure to a raccoon, bat, fox or skunk should be followed up by a visit to a veterinarian, who will usually give a rabies booster to the exposed animal. If a cat or dog has a bite wound of unknown origin, veterinarians will also usually give a rabies booster to the animal. If there is an unknown exposure (for example, a cat kills and eats a bat), the fact that the pet was already vaccinated against rabies should be sufficient.

In the United States, if a human is bitten by a raccoon, bat, skunk or fox, they need to seek immediate medical attention. If the animal is not able to be tested for rabies (which can only be done by testing the brain material of a deceased animal), the person will need to undergo a series of post-exposure rabies vaccinations (which can be quite expensive). Since bats carry rabies, it is important that any dead bats found within a house be tested for rabies (contact a veterinarian). This is especially true if there are any people in the house who may not be aware that they were bitten such as young children, anyone with a mental handicap or the elderly.

Although there were only three confirmed human deaths due to rabies in the United States in 2009 (two from bat bites and one from a dog bite while traveling in India), worldwide there are approximately 55,000 human deaths every year due to the rabies virus. Most of these human cases are in Africa and Asia. Globally, the major source of rabies in humans is from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. Children are often at greatest risk because they are more likely to be bitten by dogs and are more likely to have multiple bites.

The reason for the high numbers of human deaths globally is due to inadequate rabies vaccinations for domestic animals and limited access to the post-exposure vaccination for humans.

Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt appropriate medical care, therefore this major source of rabies in humans can be eliminated through ensuring adequate animal vaccination and control, educating those at risk, and enhancing access of those bitten to appropriate medical care.

Dr. Lynn Murrell, a veterinarian at Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic in Woodstock, works with an NGO called Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). CTPH works to protect the endangered Mountain Gorillas in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the ways they do this is by improving the health of the people surrounding the forest where the gorillas live. Gorillas and humans share over 98% of their DNA, so they share many diseases- including rabies. In the area in Uganda where Dr. Murrell spent time, there were 6 human rabies deaths in the previous year due to lack of vaccines for post exposure treatment, including a relative of one of the CTPH staff.

In February of 2010 Dr. Murrell took 500 doses of rabies vaccine donated by the Fort Dodge Animal Health company to Uganda. While in Uganda, Dr. Murrell began a dog vaccination campaign which was completed the following month by CTPH staff. Dr. Murrell said, “It’s really sobering to think that one of the vaccinations you give could save a person’s life. Also, dogs end up in the forest as well, and since the gorillas are very susceptible to rabies, an outbreak could be devastating to their small remaining population of about 720 worldwide.” Dr. Murrell returned to Uganda in March, 2012 with another shipment of Fort Dodge rabies vaccine and expanded vaccination to additional villages around the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (for more information about CTPH see their web site at www.ctph.org).

The inaugural campaign of World Rabies Day in 2007 saw participation from nearly 400,000 people in 74 countries. Since the campaign in 2007, World Rabies Day events have been held in 125 countries, educating 100 million people and vaccinating 3 million dogs.