Around 59,000 people die every year from rabies transmitted by dogs, with the poorer regions of the world worst affected, says a report by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. The report authors said more should be done to vaccinate dogs, particularly in low-income countries.
Vaccines for bite victims should also be more affordable and more widely available in these areas. Rabies is a fatal viral infection which is almost 100% preventable. The infection can infect all mammals, but domestic dogs cause more than 99% of all human deaths from rabies, the report said.
Most developed countries, including the UK, have eliminated rabies from their dog populations. But in many developing countries, rabies is still present in domestic dogs and is often poorly controlled. The report estimated that around 160 people die every day from the disease, with the vast majority of these occurring in Asia, which accounts for 60% of deaths, and Africa (36%).
On its own, India accounts for 35% of human rabies deaths, more than any other country. The report said that the proportion of dogs vaccinated in almost all countries in Africa and Asia is far below that necessary to control the disease. It said the best and most cost-effective way of preventing canine rabies was by vaccinating dogs. And this had to be supplemented by improving access to human vaccines as well.
The authors wrote: “Collaborative investments by medical and veterinary sectors could dramatically reduce the current large, and unnecessary, burden of rabies on affected communities. “Improved surveillance is needed to reduce uncertainty in burden estimates and to monitor the impacts of control efforts.”
They added that countries which had invested most in dog vaccinations were the ones where human deaths from the disease had been virtually eliminated. The study, by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control’s Partners for Rabies Prevention Group, also showed that rabies cost the world US $8.6bn through premature deaths, lost income for victims of bites and spending on human vaccines.
Dr Katie Hampson, who led the study from the University of Glasgow, said the study was the first to estimate the impact of canine rabies and how it was being controlled in every country in the world. “The breadth of data used in this study, from surveillance reports to epidemiological study data to global vaccine sales figures, is far greater than ever analysed before, allowing this more detailed output.”
Researcher Prof Louis Nel, executive director of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, said: “No one should die of rabies and we will continue to work together towards global rabies elimination.”