Veterinary and Public health authorities to team up to eliminate rabies worldwide

Rabies is a neglected and under-reported zoonotic disease killing an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people each year worldwide, particularly in children. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes rabies as the infectious disease with the highest case fatality rate and 99% of human deaths resulting from the bite of a rabid dog.

“Prevention at the animal source is the ultimate key in dealing with a prevalent and perennial zoonosis like rabies. It is the prime responsibility of the veterinary profession to apply its knowledge and skills in animal disease control to creating a buffer between the animal source of the disease and susceptible human beings,” said Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) at the International Conference that ended at the OIE Headquarters in Paris.

“Good governance of veterinary services, better laboratory diagnosis capacity and vaccination campaigns in domesticated and wild animals are key actions to be taken. Emphasis must also be put on raising public awareness of rabies and on the need for collaboration with other professions involved, namely the public health sector”, he added.

The OIE demonstrated its commitment by supporting the initiative to declare the 8th of September as World Rabies Day , back in 2007.

Dog rabies elimination: a cost effective intervention
“The cost of a post-bite treatment in humans is about twenty to one hundred times more costly than the vaccination of a dog”, Dr Vallat commented. “This is why it is cost effective that Ministries of Health provide financial resources to Veterinary Services to control the disease at its animal source”, he added.

Animal vaccination remains the method of choice to control and eradicate rabies. For ethical, ecological and economical reasons, the Conference considered that it is not advisable to control and eradicate disease outbreaks only by applying killing campaigns of potentially infected animals.

“Governments should consider investing in dog rabies as the best way to reduce escalating costs of post-exposure prophylaxis. They should establish mechanisms for a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of dog rabies elimination between the various sectors involved, particularly health and agriculture”, commented Dr Fran├žois Meslin of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Upstream control of rabies in dogs, including stray dogs, should rank high on the agenda of developing countries' national health and veterinary authorities for an efficient prevention of human mortalities.

Canine rabies and rabies in wildlife: different targets in different parts of the world

Worldwide the most common cause of human rabies infections is dogs, but animal reservoirs of the disease differ from one region of the world to the other.

In the northern hemisphere rabies in wildlife remains the main problem. Rabies in domestic dogs is now very rare in Western Europe . In Eastern European countries, the red fox is the main reservoir for the disease and vulpine rabies represents 50% of all cases. In this region in 2005, 1 in 3 cases of animal rabies involved domestic animals.

“The European Union has progressed significantly in the elimination of rabies in wildlife by the use of oral vaccination. We fully share the global concern on rabies and support attempts by EU neighbouring countries to eliminate the disease” said Dr Jean-Pierre Vermeersch of the European Commission.

In developing countries the principal reservoir for rabies is the dog. Today, Far East Asia is the region of the world most affected by canine rabies and where countries have the highest rates of human infections.

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