September 28, 2010 marks the fourth World Rabies Day. This annual event, led by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, provides a unique platform for individuals and organisations to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of rabies prevention.
Rabies remains one of the most serious viral zoonoses presently encountered worldwide. Despite being 100 per cent preventable, it is estimated that 55,000 people die worldwide from rabies each year, approximately one person every ten minutes: half are children under the age of 15.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is proud to support World Rabies Day by once again urging UK veterinary surgeons to raise their staff and clients’ awareness of the implications of rabies when they travel abroad. The BVA Overseas Group has produced some simple advice, available on the BVA website, on reducing the risk of contracting the disease, which gives guidance on vaccination and wound cleansing.
Zoe Belshaw, a member of the BVA Overseas Group, commented:
“You do not need to be engaged in any particular activity to be exposed to rabies as rabid animals will bite unprovoked and can show up almost anywhere. It is also important to remember that a lick on broken skin or mucous membranes or a scratch is as dangerous as a deep bite from an infected animal.
“Pre-exposure vaccination should be considered for those travellers at particular risk and should be mandatory for all veterinary professionals and students who are planning to work with animals in an affected country.
“Thorough wound cleansing along with post-exposure immunisation is crucially important.”
Dr Tony Fooks of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency cited the case of the death from rabies of a young woman in Northern Ireland early last year: it is believed she acquired the disease following a bite from a dog whilst working as a volunteer at an animal sanctuary in South Africa. There was no history of pre- or post-exposure rabies vaccination.
Dr Fooks commented:
“In the future clinicians may encounter rabies with increasing frequency as a consequence of a traveller having a chance contact with a rabid animal through increased excursions to rabies-endemic countries.
“Rabies is invariably fatal after the appearance of neurological disease, but is eminently preventable with appropriate and timely post-exposure prophylaxis. It is critical therefore that anyone bitten or exposed to a suspect animal in a rabies-endemic region seeks medical advice immediately,” he stressed.
Since the first World Rabies Day in 2007, more than 1000 rabies awareness and prevention activities have been held in 125 countries, educating 100 million people and vaccinating three million dogs worldwide. The veterinary profession plays an important role in protecting domestic animals and the general public from rabies.
As Dr Sarah Cleaveland of the Boyd Orr Centre for Population and Ecosystem Health at the University of Glasgow highlighted in a recent Viewpoint article in the Veterinary Record, “If mass dog vaccination campaigns can be implemented effectively, canine rabies can be eliminated throughout most of Africa and Asia, and the vast majority of the human rabies deaths that occur worldwide will be prevented.”