Rabies is responsible for the death of an estimated 69,000 people worldwide every year, which comes to 189 a day. The disease gets spread through the saliva of infected dogs. The chances that a person who has developed the dreaded symptoms of rabies, will succumb to death after contracting the virus is almost 100%. As high as 40 % of the deaths occurring due to rabies includes children mostly in Africa and Asia. That is quite a big number and the irony is that it happens due to a disease that is completely preventable. A rabies vaccine has been in existence since 1885; it was developed by Pasteur.
The symptoms of rabies are quite similar to that of flu. These symptoms include general weakness or discomfort, headache or fever. There can be a discomfort or itching sensation at the site of bite. If not treated in time, the symptoms can progress to cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. If the clinical symptoms of rabies appear, the disease almost always results in death.
A team of researchers led by the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health at Washington State University have concluded in a recent research that the deadly virus responsible for rabies can be eliminated among humans by stopping them right at its origins, i.e., in the dogs. Getting rid of rabies is not all that difficult – in fact, the process is cost-effective and achievable through mass dog vaccination programs. Scientists have reported the same in a research paper that was published in September 26th issue of Science magazine. They further wrote that since, the infection occurs as a result of interaction between animals and people; a “One Health” approach is of prime importance. In such an approach, veterinary, medical and public health professionals collaborate to eliminate the disease worldwide.
Coincidentally, the publication of this article – “Implementing Pasteur’s vision for rabies elimination”, the 119th anniversary of French scientist’s Louis Pasteur’s death and a global campaign to wrench an ancient disease in the shadows to the forefront are all happening hand in hand. Veterinary infectious disease expert Guy Palmer, who directs WSU’s Allen School and is co-author of the paper, said that since rabies is a 100% preventable disease, people should not be dying at all. The reason why this disease persists is due to various reasons which include political complacency and lack of international commitment. These reasons have also been cited by the researchers in the article. They concluded that eliminating the disease meets all the criteria for a global health priority. Getting rid of this fatal disease is not only epidemiologically and logistically feasible but also is cost-effective and socially equitable.
The successful implementation of mass dog vaccination program in the Eastern African Country of Tanzania is a proof that if mass vaccinations in dogs are carried out, the deaths happening due to rabies can be prevented. Members of the Allen School and the Serengeti Health Initiative worked in 180 villages as a part of this initiative and vaccinated as many as 1,000 dogs in a single day. According to Allen School researcher Felix Lankester, based in East Africa, who is the paper’s lead author the number of people killed by rabies has dropped from an average of 50 each year to almost zero since the program began in 2003. The vaccination of 70-percent of the dogs in the region disrupted the route of transmission from dogs to humans.
Human rabies is rare in developed nations where mass dog vaccination programs are carried out. Since, the disease is preventable, it should be viewed as a global public health problem that can be solved, opines Lankester, Palmer and co-authors from the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, the University of Glasgow in Scotland and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control.