Rabies prevention targets dogs17th March 2009
Rabies is a deadly disease that has been around since the beginning of recorded history, and kills people in the developing world at the rate of one person every 10 minutes.
But vaccinating animals before they have a chance to catch it may be a better way of preventing its spread than treating it when it arises.
Expert Francois Meslin of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the organisation will test this approach in Tanzania, South Africa, and the Philippines.
Public health officials and vets will cooperate with teams of scientists in order to vaccinate animals in each country.
In studying the technique, 70% of all dogs will be given five-year rabies vaccinations.
Meslin said that vaccinating the animals in this way is far less expensive than providing human vaccines to people exposed to dog bites.
He said that the most cost-effective way to prevent the spread of rabies among humans is to immunise dogs, because they transmit the disease to humans in these countries.
Rabies kills more than 55,000 people each year, is almost always fatal, and occurs in all mammals.
Outbreaks in Asian and African countries where there are stray dog populations are common and, in the past few months, an outbreak of the disease in Angola killed 93 people, most of them children.
Meslin said that getting rid of dogs was not a good way to prevent the spread of the disease, since diminished numbers of dogs would only last temporarily, and one of the biggest challenges facing medical workers in such countries is to maintain the vaccination coverage in dog populations prone to uncontrollable increase.
He said that it also costs more to destroy a dog and deal with its carcass than to immunise a dog.
However, he also said that rabies cannot be fought in every country, nor in every part of every country, but that it can only be done where the public health and veterinary sectors are willing to work together.
Findings published one week ago by Canadian researchers support a similar strategy, in calling for a battery of immunisations among all dogs in Tanzania, South Africa, and the Philippines, and not just strays.
The scientists used computer modelling to map the potential spread of the disease in two parts of Tanzania with low numbers of rabies cases.
They found that even if the only animals to be immunised were pets, rabies transmission would still undergo a serious decline.
They said that sustained, international commitment could make the global elimination of rabies from domestic dog populations a realistic goal.
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