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

AGA IN ACTION

World Rabies Day

FAO is supporting the World Rabies Day Initiative, to be held on Sunday 28 September 2008 and now in its second year. Rabies is an acute and fatal zoonotic viral disease, which infects domestic and wild animals and is transmissible to humans. Once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans.

 

Rabies is found in over 150 countries worldwide, particularly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and causes the deaths of over 55,000 people every year - a rate of one person every ten minutes. The major source of rabies in humans continues to be from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. Wild carnivores also play an important role in rabies transmission and bat rabies is becoming of increasing public health importance: in Latin America bat rabies is responsible for transmission of the disease to livestock, causing significant economic losses.

 

The rabies virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal and is usually spread by bites, scratches, licks on broken skin and mucous membranes. It is important to stress that rabies in humans is 100 per cent preventable, but requires that exposure should be recognized promptly, wounds washed with plenty of water and soap, and medical care (rabies post- exposure prophylaxis) provided rapidly. The incubation period varies but the average time between bite and onset of symptoms is four to eight weeks. Once the clinical signs of rabies appear, no cure is available, and, with very rare exceptions, death is inevitable. The disease results in horrific clinical signs both in humans and animals (e.g. disorientation, aggressiveness, hallucinations, seizures, and paralysis) and especially human cases cause considerable trauma for all concerned. Fear of the disease has an enormous psychological impact, and victims of suspected rabid animals endure months of anxiety while awaiting an uncertain outcome particularly when rabies post-exposure prophylaxis and immunoglobulin are not available or beyond the financial means of those bitten by animals in rabies endemic countries.

 

Children are often at greatest risk from rabies. They are more likely to be bitten by dogs, and are also more likely to be severely exposed through multiple bites in high-risk sites near the head and in the face.. Severe exposures make it more difficult to prevent rabies unless access to good medical care is immediately available.

 

Past experience has clearly demonstrated that human infection can be substantially reduced through eliminating rabies in the dog population through dog vaccination and the promotion of responsible dog-ownership. Unfortunately rabies is often considered insignificant by policy-makers, and ultimately results in little motivation to implement disease control measures. In most countries the veterinary services are responsible for dog rabies vaccinations. Dog rabies vaccination campaigns require financial and human resources that are generally lacking in developing countries. Gradually there has been a decrease of free rabies vaccination campaigns and nowadays dog owners are required to pay for rabies vaccinations that are provided by private veterinarians. This has led to a drastic decrease of rabies vaccination coverage in dogs and to an increase of human exposure. Rabies control is a public good. The larger public including policy makers need to be aware of the impact of this horrific disease and the options available for its prevention and control. Therefore supporting World Rabies day is one step in this direction.