Neglected tropical diseases

Human dog-mediated-rabies: strengthening capacity and raising awareness are crucial for elimination

24 September 2012 | Geneva
Young girl proudly showing her vaccinated dog, wearing a red collar – A symbol of the vaccination programme in Bali, Indonesia, 2010. ©WSPA/Elly Hiby

A World Health Organization (WHO) International Expert Consultation on rabies has urged countries endemic for canine rabies to initiate and strengthen their rabies prevention and control activities, and to increase the level of awareness about the disease, particularly among children.

“A re-assessment of the burden of rabies made during the meeting showed that 50 000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, still die in spite of 20 million others receiving post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) worldwide,” said Dr François Meslin, Team Leader for Neglected Zoonotic Diseases at WHO’s Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “Data show that the majority of fatal cases involve people from poor, rural communities without access to dog bite management centres and rabies biologicals. Also, too many PEP delivered in the world today are not administered to the right people.”

Rabies is a neglected disease of poor and vulnerable populations. Once an individual is infected with the virus – usually through the bite of a rabid dog – and the symptoms develop, rabies is nearly always fatal.

The main obstacle to assessing the incidence of the disease is under reporting and misdiagnosis of human rabies cases. The disease occurs mainly in remote rural communities where PEP is not accessible and where effective measures to prevent the disease in its major animal host – the dog – are not implemented. Under-reporting prevents mobilization of resources and undermines implementation of control and prevention measures, such as dog vaccination.

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