Canine rabies vaccination promises unexpected benefits

Morris Animal Foundation study results could impact future rabies control programs, provide a model to study effect in humans

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.

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2 thoughts on “Canine rabies vaccination promises unexpected benefits

  1. Rabies vaccination of dogs zero to three months of age?

    Are the dogs being vaccinated prior to one month of age?

    The information as it is presented in this summary is nonsensical.

    1. Actually the paper itself states “Rabies control regulations in South Africa make allowance for vaccination of dogs younger than 3 months old, and dogs in this age group are included in annual rabies vaccination campaigns conducted free of charge by the local veterinary services in the study area.” So, yes – they are being vaccinated much earlier than would be expected here in the USA. See