September 28, World Rabies Day, has been an annual worldwide event since 2007. It is an initiative that was started by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC). Worldwide, more than 55,000 people die from rabies, with majority of these deaths (approximately 95%) occurring in Asia and Africa1. Startlingly, almost half of these deaths occur in children under the age of 15 years. This is thought to be attributed to the lack of knowledge, as well as general curiosity, for children to expose themselves to potentially infected animals. Although the rabies virus can be found in numerous animal species, including wild and domestic animals, the vast majority of human cases are the result of being bitten by an infected dog. The sad reality is that this sometimes regarded as 100% fatal disease is 100% preventable through appropriate education and preventative measures, specifically targeting cats and dogs.
You may ask why then are rabies vaccines still important/mandatory in the US if the majority of human cases occur in under-developed countries? The reason is simple. It is BECAUSE of the rabies vaccination protocols in place that the human cases have declined in the US. Appropriately vaccinating our furry four-legged family members provides the first line of defense, acting as a protective barrier against rabies infection, without having to provide pre-exposure immunization of everyone in the general population. According to data provided by the Florida Department of Health, in 2012 32 counties had 102 reported cases of animal rabies (majority occurring in raccoons) as of December 31, 20122. These cases were only tested and reported if direct exposure to humans or pets occurred. It was determined that the most at-risk domestic animal for contracting rabies is an unvaccinated outdoor cat2.
Perhaps the most devastating fact regarding rabies is that the disease is arguably 100% fatal and 100% preventable. With proper education of the most at-risk population (children) and promoting the vaccination of domestic animals (dogs and cats), rabies infection in humans could hopefully be eradicated in years to come. For more information on World Rabies Day, and upcoming events, please visit www.rabiesalliance.org.
- World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/. Revised July 2013.
- Florida Department of Health. http://www.myfloridaeh.com/medicine/rabies/rabies-charts.htm
- Global Alliance for Rabies Control. www.rabiesalliance.org