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  • Children are particularly at risk given their frequent
    and close contact with dogs


  • Katinka de Balogh
    Senior Officer - Veterinary Public Health
    FAO HQ, Room C-528
    Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    00153 Rome, Italy
    Tel: +39 06 570 56110
  • katinka.debalogh@fao.org


How is FAO contributing to World Rabies Day 2010?

Rabies is an acute and nearly always fatal viral disease of domestic and wild animals, and humans. The disease continues to pose a serious threat to people’s health and livelihoods in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Stray dogs are a serious problem in many of these countries where dog population control is often non-existent. People are mostly infected through the bite or scratch of an affected animal, and in rare cases, through occupational exposure. The symptoms of rabies appear within 3 – 8 weeks of exposure and once they appear, it is fatal in nearly all cases. Children are particularly at risk given their frequent and close contact with dogs. Their caretakers may not have adequate knowledge on what to do to prevent children from contracting the disease. Approximately 55,000 people, who are mostly poor and living in rural and peri-urban settings, die each year of rabies.


In addition, rabies negatively affects people’s lives in many ways. Dogs play a number of important roles in human societies they are used for hunting, herding other animals and guarding property. Families may also have them as pets and consider as part of their social status. When cattle and donkeys die from rabies, households may not be able to replace them and lose an important asset for farming and transportation.


Stray dog control forms an essential component of any rabies programme. Rabies campaigns should include the promotion of responsible dog ownership, regular vaccination of dogs against rabies, caring for sick animals, as well as effective municipal waste management. Stray dogs can be carriers of diseases and may be infected with the rabies virus. They often group themselves in packs and attack humans and domestic animals. Unrestrained, owned dogs pose a high public health risk given they are more likely to have contact with stray rabid animals whilst also having close contact with humans. Dogs can transmit rabies between wild and domestic animals, and humans. Control of rabies in dogs is therefore essential to effectively prevent the disease in humans and domestic animals. Most people who develop rabies have been bitten by unvaccinated, infected dogs. Families may take years to recover from the trauma of losing a loved one to such a horrific disease.


Although rabies is 100 percent preventable, it is still endemic in more than 150 countries Animal vaccination provides an effective means of preventing and controlling rabies but the costs of animal vaccination can sometimes be unaffordable in developing countries. Human post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) should be provided to people bitten by a suspected rabid dog but it is too costly or not accessible for many people in affected countries.


Other effective actions to prevent and control the disease include promoting awareness and education about rabies. Immediate washing with soap and copious water for 15 minutes of dog bite wounds can also reduce the risk of infection. Other domestic animals are also affected by rabies. In addition, effective prevention and control of the disease also requires dog bite reporting, the strengthening of rabies surveillance and diagnostic capacities.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), together with other International organizations is committed to the One Health approach to address emerging and re-emerging infectious animal and zoonotic diseases, which impact negatively on people’s well-being, safety and livelihoods. Rabies prevention and control is a public good, and policymakers at local, national and international levels need to be alert to the multidimensional impacts of the disease, its prevention and control.


The veterinary and medical professions play important roles in preventing and controlling rabies in animal and human populations. FAO’s Animal Health Service started to build bridges in early 2010 with relevant international organizations, the private sector and local institutions, with the aim to build awareness about rabies and thus reduce the risks to humans with a primary focus on Africa. This will contribute to FAO’s mandate by improving people’s wellbeing and strengthening their livelihoods.


World Rabies Day will be commemorated for the fourth time on Tuesday, 28 September 2010. Rabies prevention and control is a public good, therefore, policymakers at national and international levels need to understand the multidimensional impacts of this disease and how it may be prevented and controlled. World Rabies Day plays an important role in advocating these issues among leaders and policymakers, and more particularly in countries where rabies is still neglected despite its severe impact on human health and wellbeing.