Organisations around the world will be aiming to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of rabies prevention on the second annual World Rabies Day on 28 September.
The Alliance for Rabies Control (ARC) is leading World Rabies Day (WRD) initiative, which is sponsored by numerous human and animal health organizations worldwide too. Its aim is to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of rabies prevention, which kills 55,000 people each year, half of which are children under the age of 15 and mostly in Africa and Asia. Its principle objectives are also to enhance education and resources in order to prevent and stop the disease by combating it in animals. Experience has shown that rabies can be successfully eradicated if control programmes are well defined, resourced and implemented, but around 8000 cases are still observed in Europe alone every year, of which about 60% in wildlife and 40% in domestic animals and also some human cases.
During the successful inaugural World Rabies Day 2007, over seventy countries participated through activities such as prevention messages for the public, dog vaccination campaigns, lectures and educational seminars, press conferences, museum and zoo exhibits, parades, festivals, marches, runs or dog walks. This year’s campaign shows promise for participation of even greater number of countries and organizations across the globe.
Rabies is one of the oldest and most feared diseases, which is usually transmitted by the saliva of infected animals and causes viral encephalitis. It is an acute viral disease of mammals, including man, which almost invariably leads to fatal infection of the brain. The lyssa virus, which causes rabies is a classic zoonotic virus, which means that it is transmitted directly from animal to animal and from animal to human. Rabies isolates can be either street rabies or wildlife rabies, or fixed virus (laboratory adapted rabies virus strains). All warm-blooded animals can be infected. Domestic animals account for less than 10% of the reported rabies cases. Among domestic animals, cats, dogs and cattle account for nearly 90% of rabies cases, with horses, mules, pigs, sheep, goats, and ferrets making up the remaining cases. Among wild animals, rabies is commonly found in foxes, monkeys, skunks, raccoons, bats, mongooses, groundhogs and rodents. Bats are the main source of infection in countries where domestic animals are vaccinated and the fox population is tightly controlled.
With the exception of Antarctica and Australia, animal rabies is present in all continents. Rabies is found in terrestrial wildlife species, in many parts of the world but not in the British Isles, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and some other parts of Europe. These countries are very keen to maintain their rabies-free status. As a result there are regulations on importing animals. Rabies rarely occurs in domestic animals in Europe and North America, but in Asia, Africa and Central and South America, rabies virus commonly infects domestic animals such as dogs and cats, as well as livestock. In Europe, there are 2 distinct rabies reservoirs, in which the virus is maintained by permanent transmission: one comprises terrestrial wildlife species (mainly foxes, and raccoon dogs in northern Europe), and the other bats. Infection of other susceptible species (including humans) is an epidemiological dead-end, as the virus is usually not further propagated. In those parts of Western Europe where rabies is present in wildlife, it mainly infects foxes. Consequently, all dogs in many northern European countries are vaccinated against rabies. In other parts of the world, such as Turkey, dogs are the main reservoir of infection and in North America raccoons and skunks are the main reservoir. Bat rabies is rarely transmitted to other animals, except in South and Central America, where the vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) transmits the virus to cattle and other livestock.
Control of rabies in domestic animals in recent years has been remarkably successful, mainly due to large-scale vaccination of pets and vigorous control of stray animals. The elimination of rabies in wild animals, which are either vectors or reservoirs of rabies is difficult. In many developing countries, wild animals are rarely accessible, and in industrialised countries, wildlife is usually under government protection. For these reasons, quarantine is usually enforced in rabies-free countries. In recent years a campaign was started in Western Europe to reduce rabies in the fox population via oral vaccination. Since the start of this campaign, there has been a significant reduction in the number of rabies cases in domestic animals and foxes. Many countries in Western Europe, including France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Finland are now free of rabies, as a direct result of baiting campaign.
The rabies virus is usually transmitted to humans by a bite or scratch with saliva of infected animals, however, there are at least two other ways in which humans are known to have contracted rabies, both extremely rare. Breathing the air in caves inhabited by rabid bats infected two people and six people contracted rabies following implants of corneas from donors who had undiagnosed rabies. Certain people with a comparatively high risk of exposure to rabies include: veterinarians, animal handlers, cave explorers, laboratory workers who come in contact with tissue from rabid animals and anyone who spends extended periods in areas where rabies is prevalent, such as parts of Africa, India and Latin America. Such individuals are encouraged to have pre-exposure immunization consisting of three vaccine injections over three to four weeks. In addition to the vaccine, patients who have not previously been vaccinated for rabies also receive an injection of rabies immunoglobulin (RIg) on the day they first receive the vaccine. RIg is prepared from the blood of people who have been immunized against rabies and contains antibodies to the rabies virus.
CABI has been raising public awareness and understanding about the importance of rabies prevention by publishing veterinary research on rabies for over 90 years. The CAB Abstracts Database contains over 7500 records on rabies offering an excellent information resource on veterinary and public health aspects of the disease.