Rabies: A neglected zoonotic disease
Rabies is a zoonosis (a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans) that is caused by a virus. It is known to be present in more than 150 countries and territories of all continents except Antarctica. About 60 000 people die of rabies every year, mostly in Asia and Africa.
Rabies virus infects domestic and wild animals and is spread to people through close contact with infected animals’ saliva via bites or scratches. The main route of rabies transmission to humans is the bite of rabid dogs. Nearly half of those bitten by suspect rabid animals are children aged under 15 years.
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease. Safe and effective vaccines for both human and veterinary use exist. The most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people is by eliminating rabies in dogs through vaccination.
Vaccination in humans is recommended for anyone at continual, frequent or increased risk of exposure to rabies virus either as a result of their residence or occupation, and for travelers with extensive outdoor exposure and children living in or visiting rural high-risk areas.
Most importantly, the development of clinical rabies in humans can be prevented through local treatment of wounds and timely immunization even after exposure to the virus, an intervention which is known as “post-exposure prophylaxis” (PEP). Most human deaths actually occur in the absence of PEP, particularly in rural areas of endemic countries where human vaccines [and immunoglobulin] are not readily available or accessible.