Study: To stop rabies in humans, stop it in dogs

Study: To stop rabies in humans, stop it in dogs

70-percent of all infectious diseases originate in animals. Changes in the environment and global travel contribute to their spread.

We are all connected.

by Linda Weiford, WSU News

When we think about rabies, we often envision a snarling dog foaming at the mouth—not the tens of thousands of people it kills each year worldwide.

Science CoverThough a vaccine for humans was developed by French scientist Louis Pasteur in 1885, the disease persists largely because there’s no concerted effort to wipe it out. Writing in the current issue of Science, a team of international experts led by the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health says the solution lies in mass dog vaccination programs.

The virus—shaped like a bullet and primarily spread through the saliva of infected canines—is rarely seen in developed countries thanks to routine vaccinations of pet dogs. But it still kills an average of 189 people each day, mostly in Africa and Asia.

"The irony is that rabies is 100 percent preventable. People shouldn’t be dying at all," said Allen School director Guy Palmer, a veterinary infectious disease expert who co-authored the article.

Conducting mass dog vaccination programs in targeted regions is practical and cost-effective, Palmer and fellow authors state. What's more, they write, because infections occur as a result of interactions between animals and people, a "One Health" approach is necessary, where veterinary, medical and public health professionals collaborate to eliminate the disease worldwide.

Rabies TeamRabies vaccination team in Tanzania

The authors cite the success of mass dog vaccination clinics held in the East African country of Tanzania. Working in 180 villages, members of the Allen School and the Serengeti Health Initiative vaccinate as many as 1,000 dogs in a single day. Since the program began in 2003, the number of people killed by rabies has dropped from an average of 50 each year to almost zero, according to the paper's lead author Felix Lankester, an Allen School researcher based in East Africa. Vaccinating 70-percent of the dogs in the region broke the route of transmission from dogs to humans, he said.

Though human rabies is rarely seen in developed nations that conduct mass dog vaccination programs, the disease should be viewed as a global public health problem that can be solved, writes 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.

Publication of their article, "Implementing Pasteur's vision for rabies elimination" coincided with the 119th anniversary of Pasteur's death and a global campaign to wrench an ancient disease in the shadows to the forefront.