Trying To Take The Bite Out Of Rabies, One Day At A Time

If you’re lucky, you don’t spend much time thinking about rabies. You probably interact with dogs and cats without ever really worrying whether or not they will transmit the disease to you or your family. Unfortunately, there are millions of people who can’t even begin to imagine what life is like without that worry. To them, the threat of rabies is terrifying, and deservedly so: they’ve witnessed family and friends die from a single dog or cat bite.

Rabies is a devastating disease in the poorest countries in the world where access to medicine and education is limited, at best. In fact, 60% percent of all human rabies deaths occur in South Asia. An estimated 20,000 annual human deaths occur in India, alone. There are multiple cases occurring in South Africa every year.

Recognising two things about rabies is important. First, rabies is 100% preventable. Second, the virus is 100% fatal. Rabies spreads quickly and easily amongst mammals through saliva. When an infected dog or cat bites someone, the virus travels through the victim’s nervous system until it reaches the brain. At this point, the virus could be stopped with the right treatment, but people in the places where rabies is most rife don’t have access to, or money for, healthcare that we would take for granted; instead, they wait in fear of the signs appearing.

At first, rabies symptoms resemble the flu but eventually escalate to more severe symptoms such as delirium, abnormal behavior, and hallucinations. The moment signs are first seen then death is almost inevitable. To date, there are only 10 reported, documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies and only two have not had a history of pre- or postexposure treatment.

At least part of the answer is education, vaccination and early detection in Africa and Asia, where so many lives are claimed each year. For instance, in 2017, the Department of Community Medicine, Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences in India, conducted a study in several remote villages to discover new ways to identify rabid, biting animals and to examine the health-seeking behavior of the victims. The results of the study were hopeful — simple steps involving data collection and investigation mean healthcare workers can identify and target limited resources to treat victims of rabid bites.

At the moment the healthcare system in India fails to capture the incidence of rabies accurately, but something as simple as a rabies scorecard could help healthcare workers identify potential rabies victims faster and more precisely in the future so that they can receive better treatment and understanding when it’s needed most.

This is why we work with others to improve education and surveillance in deprived regions, not merely increasing vaccination. Our passion is making the world better – for humans, for dogs, for all of us. We make sure that what we do has an impact by working with researchers on the ground, understanding the local situation, and then we find ways to improve what is happening.

Providing vaccines saves lives today and tomorrow, providing education and surveillance saves lives in the future. One thing is for sure, we are all in this together. We plan to continue to shine a light on all the ways that we can improve life together, and we hope, in doing so, you will find your place alongside us, inspired and ready to take part in this journey together.

MSD Animal Health is actively involved in the Afya Serengeti project where we donate thousands of vaccine doses a year.  Every time you choose Nobivac Rabies as your pet’s vaccination you are contributing to this great cause.