Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why we shouldn’t forget about rabies

The U.S. has an excellent system for preventing and monitoring rabies, but this disease still kills 55,000 people a year around the globe. And the scary thing is that by the time symptoms appear, “you’re going to die,” said Peter Costa, director of global communications for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Last year, he joined the Scientific Advisory Council of the Animal Health Institute’s Healthy People. Healthy Animals. Healthy Planet. initiative. He also coordinates World Rabies Day, held annually on September 28 in 135 countries.

I recently talked with Costa about rabies, the woman who survived it, and why it might make sense in some parts of the world to vaccinate children.

Rabies is fully preventable, so why do 55,000 people die every year from it?

The number one reason people continue to die is [lack of] general awareness—of the need to vaccinate animals; what to do if they’re bitten by a dog; and awareness of what to do as far as primary wound care.

One of the issues is the expense of these biologicials and the distance some families have to travel to receive these biologicials. Rabies post-exposure treatment is four treatments over four weeks. Often times families are traveling by foot, and it’s difficult for them to make all those trips.

And sometimes an entire family may be exposed to a rabid dog or a rabid animal, and often times due to the expense, families have to decide which family member they’re going to treat, which is just unconscionable, but these are the reasons people continue to die from rabies.

In terms of rabies mortality, 55,000 is an underreported number. In Asia and Africa where most of the cases occur, we don’t have very good surveillance and laboratory technology. So if someone is bitten by a dog, they can’t test the dog and figure out if the dog had rabies.

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