New research funded by Morris Animal Foundation shows the rabies vaccine may have a positive impact on overall canine health and is associated with a decrease in death from all causes.
Darryn Knobel, BVSc MSc MRCVS PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and population health at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine recently published his research results in the journal Vaccine.
What the findings show
The study found that vaccination reduces the risk of death from any cause by 56 percent in dogs 0 to 3 months of age. While all dogs had decreased mortality, the percentage decrease was highest in young dogs, with the effect diminishing over time.
Dr. Knobel’s study area incorporates an impoverished region of South Africa, where infectious diseases, including rabies, are an ever-present threat to humans and dogs. The research team concluded that the decrease in mortality couldn’t be explained by a reduction in deaths due to rabies alone.
“This led us to propose that the vaccine may have a non-specific protective effect in dogs, perhaps through boosting the immune system to provide enhanced defense against other, unrelated diseases,” said Knobel. “A similar phenomenon has been observed in children, although it remains to be substantiated through more definitive trials.”
The rabies threat
Rabies results in tens of thousands of human deaths every year, mostly in Asia and Africa. Dogs are the main source of human deaths, so control programs are essential to both canine and human health.
Understanding what’s responsible for the enhanced immunity could have broad implications not only for veterinary medicine but also for human medicine. To study this effect further, Knobel hopes to collaborate with veterinary immunologists and infectious disease specialists.
The fight continues
While great strides have been made in prevention and treatment since 1983, the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to include it on its neglected tropical disease roadmap. Raising awareness through World Rabies Day, Sept. 28 and other efforts is critical to successful disease management programs.
WHO, with its partners the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, is developing an international action plan to reach zero human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.