About rabies

Rabies: A neglected zoonotic disease

Rabies is a zoonotic disease (a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans), which is caused by a lyssavirus. Transmission of the virus is achieved by entering the body through wounds (e.g. scratches) or by direct contact with mucosal surfaces from an infected animal (e.g. bites), it cannot cross intact skin. There are two clinical manifestations of rabies – furious and paralytic. Furious rabies is most common form of human rabies.

Rabies is known to be present in more than 150 countries and territories and on all continents except Antarctica. It is estimated that tens of thousands of deaths occur annually from rabies with more human deaths occur in Asia than anywhere else in the world with Africa not far behind in numbers.

Some 84% of deaths from rabies occur in rural areas, with 4 out of every 10 deaths being a child. Underreporting in many developing countries is likely to lead to underestimation of the scale of the disease burden; therefore, field data to validate these estimates in a number of regions are needed to address the lack of accurate data.

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease. Countries embarking on rabies elimination programmes have experienced successful marked reductions and eventual elimination of rabies. Mass canine vaccination programs constitute a large part of a rabies elimination programmes that should cover at least 70% of the canine population.

Safe, effective vaccines can be used for pre-exposure immunization in people as well. Use of the intradermal vaccine has a cost savings of 60-80% in comparison to the intramuscular vaccine, and may be a more cost-effective option for rural areas where the disease is endemic.

Want more information? See WHO’s Expert Consultation on Rabies and Rabies Frequently Asked Questions [pdf 587kb]

Rabies in the news

26 May 2014 | Geneva
A shortage of funds for vaccinating dogs is costing the lives of tens of thousands of children every year