World Rabies Day: Raising Awareness, Working to Eliminate the Disease

by Barbara Murray

World Rabies Day Infographic
Copyright World Health Organization. Used with permission.

September 28 is World Rabies Day. What does this mean for pet owners? Most of us have our pets vaccinated and know the importance of maintaining up-to-date rabies vaccinations. Unfortunately, some pet owners do not realize the gravity of non-vaccinated pets, particularly cats and dogs, running loose in the neighborhood. In addition, in our part of the world, a few people cannot afford vaccinations and a few simply don't care. World Rabies Day was established to raise awareness of this disease worldwide and establish ways to see that all pets are vaccinated.

Horrendous Statistics

As veterinarians, health organizations and advocate groups repeatedly point out: rabies is 100 percent preventable. However, approximately 59,000 people lose their lives to this preventable disease annually. The majority of the fatalities result from having been bitten by a rabies-infected dog and a large segment, roughly 40 percent, of these numbers are children. If we do the math, that's 23,600 children! There's no reason ONE child should die of canine rabies.

In July 2o17, in our article, "The Importance of Vaccinations," I touched briefly on the "when" of having our pets vaccinated against rabies, at what age and how often. Looking back over that post, I believe I did not emphasize enough the importance of "why" when it comes to rabies shots. Then when I thought about September 28 being World Rabies Day, I thought it a good time to delve a little deeper into the "whys."

Rabies Vaccine Offers Added Protection

If protection against the horrid disease of rabies for pets and their humans isn't enough reason to have our pets vaccinated, (which it certainly is), here's a bonus: new research has shown that rabies vaccinations decrease the likelihood of rabies-vaccinated dogs dying from any type of disease. Amazing stuff. The research findings indicate that the added protection is stronger for younger dogs and decreases with age.

The study, funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, was conducted by Dr. Darryn Knobel, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. The findings showed that the overall risk of death from any cause was reduced by 56 percent in dogs that have received the rabies vaccine.

Dr Knobel shared his findings in Volume 35, Issue 31, of Vaccine magazine, published July 5, 2017. Reading the details of the research was quite interesting. As Dr. Knobel commented in a press release on the results of his research, "This led us to propose that rabies vaccine may have a non-specific protective effect in dogs, perhaps through boosting the immune system to provide enhanced defense against other, unrelated diseases."

That's great news for all vaccinated dogs and their humans. So, the trick is to get ALL dogs vaccinated. And let's not forget our cats.

Raising Awareness Internationally

GARC's Daniel Stewart administers a rabies vaccination to a puppy in South Africa.The Global Alliance for Rabies Control, or GARC, provides a listing of events around the world conducted to raise awareness and help eliminate this deadly disease. As GARC notes some vet clinics around the world offer free rabies vaccinations for your pets on World Rabies Day or in the days and weeks before and following this annual calendar mark as part of campaigns to raise awareness. Other groups travel to problem areas. For example, in the photo at right, GARC's Daniel Stewart vaccinates a puppy during a mass dog vaccination in South Africa.

The GARC, the World Health Organization, several dozen additional groups and international alliances set a goal to completely eliminate all deaths from canine rabies by 2030. When you think about it objectively, this goal is very much attainable. Education followed by action will accomplish this. However, we cannot sit and wait for someone else to take care of the problem.

Take Action

As pet owners and animal advocates, it's certainly our responsibility to do what we can to prevent and eliminate the disease. Of course, as indicated above, this begins by having our own animals vaccinated, in other words leading by example, then encouraging others to do the same, helping out whenever/wherever possible to raise awareness and work to wipe out this disease.

Education, education, education, action, action, action. . . .

American Veterinary Medical Association: World Rabies Day (Video)

Editor's Note: The American Veterinary Medical Association published the video below to help raise awareness about rabies. Note that the stats cited in the video state that approximately 55,000 people die annually as a result of contracting rabies. The figures stated in paragraph two above in this article are current, according to both the CDC and the World Health Organization. This video was published in 2011, indicating that fatality rates have increased since to approximately 4,000 more deaths annually.

CDC: World Rabies Day
GARC: The Problem of Rabies
Science Direct: Rabies Vaccine is Associated with Decreased All-cause Mortality in Dogs
WHO: World Rabies Day

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