Guest post by Sarah Cleaveland: World Rabies Day, 2013

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The World Rabies Day team: (L to R) Kirstyn Brunker, Barb Mable, Will Harvey (hiding), Gran Hopcraft, Captain Sarah Cleaveland, Taya Forde and Christina Ahlstrom

An impromptu team from the Boyd Orr Centre gathered in Aberfoyle to take part in the Trossachs 10 km run to mark World Rabies Day on 28th September.  World Rabies Day is a UN day that was initiated in 2007 by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control with the aim of raising awareness about the impact of rabies around the world, and to catalyse programmes to control and eliminate this deadly but preventable disease (www.rabiesalliance.org).  Scientists from the Boyd Orr Centre have led research that provides convincing evidence that eliminating canine rabies is a feasible objective that can save many thousands of lives, at highly cost-effective levels of investment.  The Boyd Orr rabies team is also closely involved in international partnerships and networks that are working to initiate and coordinate national and regional rabies elimination programmes in Africa and Asia.

Events relating to World Rabies Day are now held in more than 100 countries around the world and range from dog vaccination campaigns, educational events, fund-raising activities, and international webinars.  While the global rabies problem is unlikely to be high among the day-to-day concerns of many in the UK – our rabies T-shirts were met with rather bemused enquiries from the polite residents of Aberfoyle – there are many reasons why we also have a vested interest in controlling dog rabies overseas.  First, many of us travel to countries where dog rabies is still endemic (most countries in Asia and Africa), and encounters with dogs are not uncommon.  In one study of backpackers travelling to southeast Asia, ~4% experienced an exposure (lick or bite of an unknown dog) that could result in rabies, and few people who were exposed were able to receive the course of vaccination and immunoglobulin as promptly as needed. Second, with the recent changes in quarantine regulations for pets from non-EU countries, increasing numbers of dogs are being brought into the UK from countries where canine rabies is widespread.  Dogs in these countries that are kept as pets, with a history of vaccination, are unlikely to pose a risk in terms of introducing rabies into the UK.  But there are concerns about street dogs and rescue dogs that are increasingly being adopted by travellers for re-homing in the UK.  The history of these dogs is likely to be more uncertain than that of pet dogs, and, even when the required vaccination and blood testing schedules are met, there remains a risk that a proportion of dogs could be incubating rabies when entering the UK.  While the risk is very small, the consequences of this could be devastating and extremely costly.

So, while dog rabies may have seemed like a distant problem to those of us running through the beautiful environs of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in the Trossachs, there are good reasons for us all to care about rabies and to invest in a world that is free of dog rabies – not only to prevent the thousands of terrifying and needless deaths that occur every year among the most disadvantaged people in the world, but also protect us, as travellers, and to reduce the risk of rabies entering the UK.

Some further references

Hampson, K., Dushoff, J., Cleaveland, S., Haydon, D.T., Kaare, M., Packer, C., and Dobson, A.  (2009).Transmission dynamics and prospects for the elimination of canine rabies. PLoS Biology. 7: (3). e53 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.100005.3.

Hampson K., Dobson A., Kaare, M., Dushoff J., Magoto M., Sindoya E. and Cleaveland S. (2008) Rabies exposures, post-exposure prophylaxis and deaths in a region of endemic canine rabies: a contact-tracing study. PLoS Neglected Diseases, 2(11): e339. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000339

Lembo T., Hampson K., Kaare M., Ernest E., Knobel D., Kazwala R., Haydon D. and Cleaveland S. (2010) The feasibility of eliminating canine rabies in Africa: dispelling doubts with data. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 4: e626.

Piyaphanee W. et al. (2010)  Rabies exposure risk among foreign backpackers in Southeast Asia. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg, 82: 1168–1171.

Shaw M. et al. (2009) Rabies Postexposure Management of Travelers Presenting to Travel Health Clinics in Auckland and Hamilton, New Zealand.  Journal of Travel Medicine, 16: 13–17

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