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World Rabies Day
September 28, 2021
World Rabies Day is observed annually to raise awareness about rabies prevention and to highlight progress in defeating this horrifying disease.
Established in 2007, it aims to raise awareness about rabies and help the world come together to fight this highly fatal, neglected disease. The theme for 2021 is ‘Rabies: Facts, not Fear,’ focusing on:
- The knowledge, strategies, and tools to eliminate dog-mediated rabies.
- Successful approaches and tools to prevent, control and eliminate the disease.
- Saving lives by spreading awareness about rabies, and teaching others how to prevent it.
28 September also marks the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death, the French chemist and microbiologist, who developed the first rabies vaccine.
Rabies is estimated to cause 59,000 human deaths annually in over 150 countries, with 95% of cases occurring in Africa and Asia. Due to underreporting and uncertain estimates, this number is likely a gross underestimate. The burden of disease is disproportionally borne by rural poor populations, with approximately half of cases attributable to children under 15 years of age.
Today, safe and efficacious animal and human vaccines are among the important tools that exist to eliminate human deaths from rabies while awareness is the key driver for success of communities to engage in effective rabies prevention.
In the United States, rabies deaths are very rare thanks to successful animal control and vaccination programs, and a robust healthcare structure that can provide vaccines to people shortly after an exposure. About 55,000 Americans get postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) each year to prevent rabies infection after being bitten or scratched by an infected or suspected infected animal.
Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease that causes progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Clinically, it has two forms:
Furious rabies – characterized by hyperactivity and hallucinations.
Paralytic rabies – characterized by paralysis and coma.
Although fatal once clinical signs appear, rabies is entirely avoidable; vaccines, medicines and technologies have long been available to prevent death from rabies. Nevertheless, rabies still kills tens of thousands of people each year. Of these cases, approximately 99% are acquired from the bite of an infected dog.
Dog-mediated human rabies can be eliminated by tackling the disease at its source: infected dogs. Making people aware of how to avoid the bites of rabid dogs, to seek treatment when bitten and to vaccinate animals can successfully disrupt the rabies transmission cycle.
Early symptoms of a rabies infection can include a fever with pain and unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking or burning sensation (paraesthesia) at the wound site. In later states, the virus spreads to the central nervous system, causing fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The incubation period of the disease can vary from 1 week to 1 year, though it is typically 2–3 months.
The two types of rabies show different symptoms. Furious rabies causes signs of hyperactivity, excitable behaviour, hydrophobia (fear of water) and sometimes aerophobia (fear of drafts or of fresh air). Death occurs after a few days due to cardio-respiratory arrest.
Paralytic rabies, which accounts for about 20% of the total number of human cases, runs a less dramatic and usually longer course than the furious form. Muscles gradually become paralysed, starting at the site of the bite or scratch. A coma slowly develops and eventually death occurs. The paralytic form of rabies is often misdiagnosed, contributing to the under-reporting of the disease.
Learn more about Rabies at the World Health Organization website.