Isn’t rabies rare?
In developed countries, such as the United States, rabies is quite rare in dogs because of access to vaccinations and city and state policies that require dogs be vaccinated. But in many developing countries, rabies is not under control and is spread through dog bites. Globally, more than 99% of human rabies deaths are caused by dog bites—almost all of these in Africa and Asia. Each year more than 59,000 people die from rabies, making it the deadliest zoonotic disease on the planet. One-half of deaths are children under the age of 16.
What countries have the highest incidence of rabies?
The per capita rabies deaths are highest in sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of South Africa. The absolute number of human rabies deaths are highest in India which accounts for 35% of the global deaths.
What is the WSU Rabies Vaccination Program currently doing to help eliminate rabies globally?
Rabies is easily preventable in Africa and Asia with regular dog vaccinations. The WSU team vaccinates an average of 300 dogs each day in east Africa. They visit 180 villages every year in seven districts adjacent to the Serengeti National Park. Because of the program, the vaccination zone – a cordon sanitaire – is rabies free. The goal is to use this rabies-free vaccination zone as a model in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Vaccinating 70 percent of the dog population will protect humans and wildlife, such as lions, from the disease. The disease is easily preventable with regular dog vaccinations.
If vaccinating is so successful, why is rabies still so deadly?
There are several reasons why rabies continues to be so prevalent in many parts of the world. One challenge is getting the vaccinations to the most vulnerable people in resource-poor countries. Many areas in rural Africa, for example, do not have electricity and currently the vaccine needs to be stored at cold temperatures. The cost of the vaccine is also too much for many families.
Governments in many countries have historically put their resources
into treating the disease with post-exposure prophylaxis, which are a series of post-bite vaccinations that must be started within the first 24 hours after a person is bitten by a rabid dog. Once symptoms appear, the disease is always fatal. Because of the narrow window for treatment, it has not been very effective in reducing deaths. It is also the most costly option. The direct costs of post-exposure prophylaxis are 20 times higher than the amount spent on dog vaccination in affected countries. Research in Tanzania and other countries has now convinced the World Health Organization and national governing bodies that canine vaccination can be effectively used for global elimination of rabies.
What can be done to get rabies vaccinations to where they are needed most?
We have all the tools needed to eliminate rabies, we only need to deploy them. The long-term plan is to eventually have the vaccination program implemented by local communities. But in order for it to be a success, researchers at the Allen School must find a way to reduce the cost of administering the vaccinations. One strategy to lower the cost of the vaccinations is to have community members liaise with the veterinary district offices, rather than hiring teams to travel around setting up clinics in the various communities. Scientists in the Allen School are also currently conducting studies on the effectiveness of rabies vaccines stored at ambient temperatures, which would make the distribution much easier in remote areas. A major challenge is creating a reliable vaccine bank that would provide a consistent and affordable vaccine supply for countries to draw on and then replenish.
Who does the Allen School work with to solve this problem?
We work with partners around the world including the Global Alliance for Rabies Control as an umbrella organization as well as the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Our research in Tanzania is in cooperation with the Serengeti Health Initiative and the University of Glasgow.
In December 2015, the World Health Organization, together with the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization will be bringing chief medical officers and chief veterinary officers from across the globe together to launch the global elimination campaign. Researchers from the Allen School and our partners will be actively involved in those meetings.
What Can I Do to Help?
The Allen School is working to eliminate rabies with the goal of no humans deaths by 2030, but to do that we have set a goal to raise $10 million to extend our reach to other parts of Africa and Asia. Funds will be used to develop a reliable vaccine bank and improved distribution. We will also conduct scholarly work to learn how to best work between countries where border regions are so critical. Ten dollars will vaccinate a child's dog from rabies and distemper, another major cause of mortality in young dogs. A gift of any amount will move us closer to a world where no child dies from canine rabies. Together we can make a difference.