Rabies…A Worldwide Threat!

rabid_dogIt probably seems inconceivable to most North Americans, but more than 55,000 people across the world die every year from rabies.  This dreaded killer disease still ravages large areas of Asia and Africa and children are often the unfortunate victims.  Overall, someone in the world dies from rabies every 10 minutes!  Fortunately, global awareness is increasing due to World Rabies Day.

Rabies! Instantly we picture a wild animal or even a domestic dog, foam slathering from its mouth as it prepares to attack.  This killer virus raises its head every year always waiting for an opportunity to strike.   Modern medicine has come close to eradicating this disease, but it’s not gone yet!

In North America, we are extremely lucky. Vaccinations have practically eliminated the threat of rabies from our domestic animals. Ongoing programs using oral rabies vaccines for wildlife are attempting to halt the spread of rabies among raccoons, skunks and foxes. But if we have done such a great job, then why should we continue to be concerned and vaccinate our pets? Are we still in danger from our ancient foe?

The simple answer is a resounding YES!

According to the Alliance for Rabies Control, 55,000 people die from rabies each year around the world, mainly in Asia and Africa – an unfortunate statistic – because with appropriate medical care, rabies in humans is 100% preventable.

An even sadder fact is a large percentage of deaths are children. More than 100 children die from rabies worldwide every day. Overall, one person is killed by this disease every 10 minutes!

Rabies is a viral disease that can affect any warm-blooded animal; however, our close association with dogs brings this killer home to our families.

After development of an effective vaccination program for our pets and a post-exposure rabies vaccine for people, rabies cases in humans began to drop significantly in Western countries.

Within the last decade, less than three-dozen people have died from rabies in the United States. The majority of these deaths were attributable to bat or dog bites from outside the United States. This dramatic decrease has prompted the CDC to announce canine rabies is “extinct” in the U.S.

“There are many people today who remember rabid dogs in the streets of their neighborhoods,” says Dr. Sandy Norman, a veterinarian with the Indiana Board of Animal Health. She warns that pet owners should continue vaccinating their pets, especially in light of the CDC announcement.

“It is only through continued vigilance that we will maintain that status,” she says. “There is a huge reservoir of rabies among wildlife and it is not unimaginable that those strains could infect our pets.”

Additionally, world travel could allow someone to unknowingly bring home a rabid pet. Recently, several British animal rescuers underwent prophylactic rabies vaccines.  A puppy imported from Sri Lanka bit all of them and later, was found to be rabid.

Here in the United States, more than 20,000 prophylactic doses of human rabies vaccines are given annually.

To help keep this disease in the public eye, the Alliance for Rabies Control, a charity created in the United Kingdom, enacted World Rabies Day. The goal is to eradicate terrestrial rabies as quickly as possible.

World Rabies Day, held each September, is designed to raise awareness and help people understand how they can help eliminate this threat.

Four hundred thousand people from around the world participated in the first World Rabies Day in an effort to raise knowledge and understanding.  Additionally, leading U.S. veterinary associations and pharmaceutical companies, like Merial and Novartis are all contributing to the cause.

Keeping yourself safe from rabies is easy by following a few simple steps:

First, follow your veterinarian’s guidelines as well as your local ordinances with regards to vaccinating your pet. Laws vary from state to state so be sure you understand your responsibility.

Second, avoid contact with wildlife. Rabies still exists in wild animals. Never attempt to remove a wild animal from your property without professional help.

Be especially wary of bats. Most human rabies cases in North America are the result of a bat bite.

Finally, the Alliance asks that you tell your friends how rabies impacts lives around the world. Encourage neighbors and fellow pet owners to vaccinate all of their pets.

Rabies can be controlled and potentially even eliminated in many parts of the world, but as Dr. Norman says, “Continued vigilance is essential.”

Ask your veterinary staff what you can do to help during the World Rabies Day events and visit the official website at www.worldrabiesday.org.  To learn more about rabies and its effects on pets and people, visit www.MyVNN.com for important pet health videos.