Record-Breaking Participation Expected For World Rabies Day

August 3, 2009

World Rabies Day will once again take place on Sept. 28 in an effort to raise awareness and resources in support of human rabies prevention and animal rabies control.

Eighty-five countries participated in last year’s observance, according to the Alliance for Rabies Control, a United Kingdom charity that helped spearhead the effort with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group expects to exceed that number this year.

The campaign[1] seeks to reinforce the message that rabies is a preventable disease, yet it kills 55,000 people each year, about one person every 10 minutes, according to the organization. 

Rabies can be transmitted to animals and humans. The disease is transmitted mainly by bite, but exposure may also occur through contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva from an infected animal. Once neurological symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans. However, rabies is preventable. 

“Vaccination prior to possible exposure is a crucial part of health management of domestic animals, and is the single most important factor in rabies prevention,” said Peter Costa, global communications coordinator for the Alliance for Rabies Control.

Rabies prevention starts with the animal owner, according to the Alliance for Rabies Control. Prevention measures include vaccinating pets and avoiding stray animals and wildlife.

If a person is bitten, they should wash the bite wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. If a pet is bitten, consult a veterinarian immediately. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop rabies infection and/or prevent the disease in humans and animals, according to the Alliance for Rabies Control.

The World Rabies Day initiative also raises money towards local rabies prevention and control programs, with eight projects funded since 2008. 

“Through the World Rabies Day campaign we continue to engage all the major stakeholders associated with rabies to take action,” Costa said.

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To help facilitate event coordination, the World Rabies Day campaign team has put together new educational materials such as public service announcements and toolkits. They’ve also turned to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

A variety of events are scheduled this year, including vaccination clinics, lectures and educational seminars.

Among them:

World Rabies Day is a natural partnership for Merial, according to Bob Menardi, DVM, veterinary spokesperson for the company.

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“It is an opportunity to spread the word about rabies, risk factors and ways to help protect pets against a deadly disease, including vaccination,” he said.

Merial recently commissioned a survey to reveal what pet owners know about rabies. According to the study, conducted by WMS Marketing Services, there is a high compliance among dog and cat owners when it comes to rabies vaccination—94 percent for canine and 75 percent for feline. However, about one-fourth of pet owners (24 percent for canine, 26 percent for feline) believe rabies is not typically fatal, even after clinical signs appear. Merial reiterates that rabies is 100 percent fatal in animals once clinical signs occur.

The survey also found that 57 percent of cat owners and 37 percent of dog owners felt that a pet mainly indoors is not at risk of getting rabies. In addition, only 15 percent of cat owners and 24 percent of dog owners indicated “it’s the law” as a reason for vaccinating their pet against rabies.

Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health of Kenilworth, N.J., is also a sponsor of World Rabies Day. To help raise money for the cause, the children of Schering-Plough employees all over the world have been invited to design the official World Rabies Day 2009 T-shirt. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to the global rabies campaign. The winning T-shirt had not been revealed at press time.

On a larger scale, the company is once again supporting the Afya Serengeti project by donating free rabies vaccines. The Swahili name is translated as Health for the Serengeti.

Sarah Cleaveland, Ph.D., from the Center of Tropical Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, started the program in 1997 to eradicate rabies in the Serengeti. It began as a research project, but evolved into a rabies control program that works with local people in the Serengeti to ensure vaccination of domestic dogs.

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A vaccination zone has been set up around the Serengeti National Park with regular clinics for dog owners to bring their pets to be registered and vaccinated. As a result of the campaign, the number of people requiring hospital care for bites from rabid dogs has dropped by 82 percent, according to the project.

“We really believe in these initiatives and have supported them globally for a number of years now,” said Peter Oostenbach, who is responsible for global sponsoring at Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health and heading the international T-shirt campaign. “The Afya Serengeti initiative is a clear example of how vaccination can work to eradicate disease and save lives.”

In addition, when a U.S. veterinarian vaccinates a pet with the company’s Canine Influenza, Continuum or Nobivac Lyme vaccine between now and Dec. 31, Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health will in turn donate a dose of rabies vaccine to the project. Up to 150,000 doses of vaccines will be donated. Worldwide, the minimum target is 200,000.

World Rabies Day partners include: Alliance for Rabies Control, the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, the British Veterinary Association, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, Kansas State University, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, among others.

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Endnotes:
  1. campaign: http://www.worldrabiesday.org
  2. Click here: http://www.worldrabiesday.org/assets/files/2009%20Agenda.pdf
  3. email: mailto:lknight@humanesocietytampa.org
  4. click here: http://www.humanesocietytampa.org
  5. Click here: http://www.worldrabiesday.org/EN/Events/CDC-Symposium.html
  6. Click here: http://www.rita2009.org

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