Worldwide, an estimated 59,000 people die of rabies each year from a bite or scratch from an infected dog, according to the World Health Organization; almost half are children under the age of 15. With preventative measures, including vaccination, you can protect your human and canine family members.
Rabies continues to be a serious health problem in large parts of the world. Of the estimated 900 million dogs worldwide, the majority (75-85%) are not pets. In countries where rabies is a continuing threat and epidemics continue, both owner and non-owner dogs may be at risk if they are not vaccinated against rabies.
Many areas where rabies epidemics continue have limited access to resources and vaccines, and awareness and education about the disease is often low. Learn more about this preventable disease and how to stop its spread with these tips from the experts at MSD Animal Health’s Afya Program.
Know what rabies is and how it is transmitted
Rabies is a viral zoonosis (a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans) that causes fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, not only in wild animals but also in domestic animals and humans. The rabies virus is spread through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through a bite or scratch. In up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for human rabies infections.
The time it takes to show symptoms of rabies depends on how far the virus has to travel from the bite site to the brain. If someone gets bitten on a toe, it can take weeks or even months to show symptoms, but if they are bitten on the face, he or she can become enraged in just a few days.
Once symptoms are present, the disease is 100 percent fatal. Symptoms include anxiety, confusion, partial paralysis, restlessness, aggression, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, fear of water, and possibly paralysis, coma, and death.
Be careful with unfamiliar dogs
As a general rule, it is best to avoid approaching unfamiliar dogs. This is especially true for dogs who sleep, eat, or care for puppies, as they may be surprised or protective if they sense a threat. If you come across a dog you don’t know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against running and screeching, and instead suggest avoiding direct eye contact and staying still. Watch for the dog’s warning behaviors such as growling, snapping, showing teeth, back hair, back ears, and rigid posture.
Make sure your dogs are vaccinated
Rabies is 100 percent preventable by vaccinating dogs. You can do your part by making sure your dog stays on top of his rabies vaccination, which is given by a veterinarian in one-year or three-year doses.
Get medical attention quickly
If someone has been bitten or scratched by a dog with suspected rabies and may have been exposed to rabies, a vaccination may be part of the treatment. However, it is important to immediately wash the wound for 15 minutes with soap and running water. This can help remove and inactivate any virus that may have been inoculated. The course of post-exposure vaccination will depend on your vaccination history, so you will need to see your doctor or go to the emergency room for immediate medical attention.
Find more information on preventing and eliminating rabies at afya.org and help raise awareness by using #ForThemForUs and sharing photos and videos of rabies prevention and elimination efforts on social media.