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Rabies Still a Global Problem Despite Simple Prevention

14 July 2015

GLOBAL - Rabies is a growing health concern for both pets and owners around the world. Despite there being a 100 per cent preventable vaccine, the deadly viral disease is still taking around 60,000 lives each year.

Marking the fourth annual World Zoonosis Day (6 July 2015), the global animal medicines association HealthforAnimals joined leading voices to highlight the economic paradox of the rabies crisis and called for urgent action to halt the spread of rabies once and for all.

Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease which affects both humans and animals, including pets and livestock.

The disease is spread through saliva from bites from an infected animal such as bats, foxes, racoons, skunks, cats and dogs. 

"We can beat canine rabies if we vaccinate 70 per cent of dogs"
Professor Louis Nel, Global Alliance for Rabies Control

Bat Conservation International notes that: “Worldwide, more than 30,000 humans die of rabies each year, with 99 per cent of cases resulting from contact with dogs."

Recent reported outbreaks of rabies in pets have included a dog in France and a cat in Canada, showing that this is not a disease that only effects wild animals nor only less economically developed countries.

Rabies Cost to the Economy

Despite it being preventable, rabies costs the global economy an estimated $124 billion annually.

Taking India as an example, post-bite immunisations cost the Indian economy over $25 million a year alone, yet more people die of rabies in India than anywhere else in the world.

Yet, a rabies vaccine costs as little as £5 to vaccinate 20 dogs for one year. 

Professor Louis Nel, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, commented that although the world has come a long way in preventing rabies, it has yet to eradicate it in some parts of the world.

"We can make rabies history if international institutions invested more in mass canine vaccinations. We know we can beat canine rabies if we vaccinate 70 per cent of dogs. Canine vaccines are not only less expensive than injections for people; they are far less expensive than the critical care treatment of a human rabies case.

“To achieve this, the animal and human health industries need to align and secure increased support and funding from international institutions for in-country rabies control programmes. Only then can we achieve a world free of rabies.”

HealthforAnimals Executive Director, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas said: “To address the global zoonotic threat, HealthforAnimals is promoting the use of preventive veterinary medicines and the widespread use and development of vaccines. These play an increasingly important role in the effective control of a variety of diseases.

“Also important, is ensuring an environment that encourages continued innovation within the animal health industry, to ensure that we remain on top of the always shifting disease-scape, as pathogens themselves, and the environment in which they exist, continually change. Preventing rabies in dogs is widely regarded as one of the best options for reducing the number of deaths in humans.”

Keeping Your Animals Safe from Rabies

Although rabies is still a growing problem around the world, it can be prevented through simple vaccination. 

Your local veterinarian will be able to vaccinate your pets and/or livestock for rabies if you are in, or are travelling to, a high risk country/area.  

It is very important that you keep up to date and check vaccination records for your pets.

Other ways to prevent rabies in your pets is to keep dogs on a lead when they are out so they are less likely to come into contact with an infected animal.

“To keep yourself and your pets safe from the deadly rabies virus, keep your pets properly vaccinated and away from wildlife,” said Bill Porter, director of Animal Protection and Control for the Larimer Humane Society.

“Dogs and cats are always curious about abnormal-acting wildlife, and only a small bite is necessary to transfer the disease from an infected animal.” 

What Should I do if I am Bitten?

If you are bitten by an animal that you suspect could have rabies it is important to wash the wound with soap and hot water for at least 15 minutes.

Untreated rabies leads to death so it is very important that you contact your health provider and also your pets veterinarian if your pet is bitten. 

If your pet has been bitten then it will quarantined and monitored to see if rabies develops.

Similarly, livestock that have been bitten will also be quarantined. 

How do I Spot Rabies

As rabies affects the brain, animals with rabies usually present with strange and abnormal behaviour.

At the start, animals may also show signs of being unwell.

This is then followed by the strange, aggressive or erratic behaviour.

As the disease progresses animals may be seen to foam at the mouth and experience paralysis.

TheCattleSite News Desk

Top image via Shutterstock

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