10 Facts on Rabies

Published by the World Health Organization in September 2017 – http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/rabies/en/

Rabies causes thousands of deaths every year in over 100 countries mostly affecting under-served communities with limited access to health and veterinary systems. Successful rabies control programs comprise of three pillars: community participation; education, public awareness, and access to mass vaccination of dogs; and access to post bite treatment.  Countries are responding to achieve the target of zero human deaths by 2030 by scaling up their response to consign rabies to the history books.

Fact 1: Rabies is fatal once symptoms appear The disease affects both domestic and wild animals and is spread to people usually via saliva, bites, and scratches.  Early symptoms include fever and often pain or unusual tingling sensation around the wound.  Thorough cleansing of the wound and immunization within a few hours after a bite can prevent the onset of the disease.

Fact 2: Over 59 000 people die of rabies each year Over 95% of human rabies cases occur in Africa and Asia, mostly impacting children.  Rabies can be transmitted to people from animals, with over 99% of cases due to dog bites.  Rabies is a neglected disease found in poor and disadvantaged populations who often have limited access to healthcare.

Fact 3: Education is key for rabies prevention Teaching communities and especially children how to avoid being bitten to understand animal behavior and what to do in the event of a bite is crucial to prevent rabies.  WHO works with various partners to educate entire communities by raising awareness of the disease and supporting responsible dog ownership.  Education works and has saved the life of a boy in Goa, India, after he was bitten by a rabid dog.

Fact 4: Wound washing is lifesaving The wound must be thoroughly washed immediately with soap and water.  If bitten, seek immediate medical advice.  Vaccination, and in severe cases, immunoglobulins may be required.  Kenya has developed a community-based reporting system using a hotline that provides advice.

Fact 5: Vaccination against rabies saves lives Vaccination for travelers may be recommended before visiting rabies-affected areas.  Individuals should consult with their healthcare provider.  Every year, more than 15 million people receive post-bite vaccination against rabies.  It is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths around the world.  To improve access to rabies post exposure treatment, the government of Bhutan has committed to covering the costs of rabies exposure treatments.

Fact 6: Vaccinating dogs reduces human infection Rabies is a vaccine preventable disease.  Vaccinating all dogs, including roaming and strays, prevents rabies being passed to humans and stops other dogs becoming infected.  A cost-effective rabies elimination program in Bangladesh, which involves mass dog vaccination, resulted in 50% decrease in human rabies deaths between 2010 and 2013.  Tanzania, the Philippines, and Kwazulu Natal have also demonstrated that control of rabies is feasible through mass dog vaccinations.  Vietnam has also developed a strategy that includes mass dog vaccination.

Fact 7: Reporting of dog bites and suspected rabid animals supports rabies elimination Reporting of dog bites and suspected rabid animals improves resource allocation and the response of health and veterinary systems.  A WHO-supported study in Kenya is demonstrating the values of community-based reporting to improve human and animal rabies case detection.  Technological advances, such as Smartphone-based applications used by Mission Rabies, improves efficacy of mass dog vaccination campaigns.

Fact 8: Technology improves access to rabies treatment in rural and hard-to-reach locations Rabies is often found in remote locations with populations who may have limited access to healthcare services.  WHO advocates and supports the development of innovative mechanisms and technologies to improve treatment possibilities within these communities.  Drones are being used to deliver rabies vaccines for post-exposure prophylaxis and blood to remote health facilities in Rwanda.

Fact 9: Rabies is a success story for implementing One-health Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it is transmitted to human from animals.  Coordination of elimination efforts between human and veterinary health is the only way to prevent human rabies deaths long term.  A cross-sectoral approach that provides treatment after dog bites and vaccinates the local dog populations has been successful at reducing human rabies deaths in Sri Lanka and also in many countries in Latin America.  WHO collaborates with strategic partners in agriculture and animal heath to support access to affordable, safe, and efficacious vaccines.  WHO develops technical guidance and supports governments to improve their laboratory capacity and strengthen disease surveillance.

Fact 10: United Against Rabies to Achieve “Zero by 30” WHO, Food and Agriculture organization, World Organization for Animal Health, and Global Alliance for Rabies have launched the global anti-rabies initiative.  This is the first time that major players in human and animal health have committed to a common strategy for rabies elimination.  The “United Against Rabies” platform will catalyze and coordinate the worldwide efforts to achieve the global goal of “Zero human rabies deaths in 2030.”  A strategic plan is being developed to catalyze investment in rabies prevention and provide guidance to countries as they implement a One-health, cross-sectoral approach for their rabies elimination plans.

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