Rabies vaccination programs here in the United States have been successful in preventing the natural spread of rabies in dogs. There were 125 cases of human rabies reported in the US between 1960 to 2018. Twenty-eight percent of these cases were a result of contact with an infected dog outside of the US. For those infected within the US, the virus was acquired from contact with an infected wild animal including bats, raccoons, skunks or foxes. The majority of confirmed rabies cases in the US are a result of contact with an infected bat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bats are the cause of 7 out of 10 cases of rabies in the US.
Worldwide, rabies cause approximately 59,000 deaths annually. Forty percent of these deaths occur in children younger than 15 years old. Most of these cases occur in Africa and Asia and the cause, in 99% of the cases, is rabid dogs. Though vaccination programs coupled with reducing the number of stray dogs dramatically decreases the incidence of human rabies, rabies deaths still occur at alarming rates in countries with deficient public health funding coupled with inadequate preventive treatment.
The World Health Organization has a campaign to reduce dog to human rabies transmission around the world to zero by 2030. Mission Rabies is a nonprofit organization which has targeted Goa, India as an example of how an effective rabies program can stop the spread of this deadly disease. Since 2014, Mission Rabies has been working on a campaign to stop rabies in Goa. In 2017, they began spending approximately $300,000 annually to vaccinate 100,000 dogs each year. As a result, death from rabies in Goa fell to zero last year. In 2014 when the campaign began, 15 deaths from rabies were reported. No deaths have occurred since 2019 began. According to Ryan M. Wallace, who is head of the rabies epidemiology unit at the CDC and is a veterinarian, the Mission Rabies campaign in Goa “is one of the most successful programs in lower/middle income countries that I have seen in a decade.”
My Pet’s Animal Hospital is very proud to partner with Merck Animal Health “working toward a world free of rabies.” Because rabies is entirely preventable with mass vaccination being the most effective method for eradication, Merck joined the fight by donating more than a million doses of canine rabies vaccine to Mission Rabies and the Afya Project, another organization involved in widespread vaccination of domestic dogs across the Serengeti in Africa.
Merck Animal Health is a manufacturer of high quality vaccines. We primarily use vaccines made by Merck because of their commitment to producing excellent, high quality vaccines. For every vaccine we purchase from Merck, they make a donation to Mission Rabies.
One health is a concept that recognizes the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment. Rabies offers a perfect example of this concept. Around the globe, wherever you find dogs, you find people. If dogs are suffering and dying from rabies, humans are as well. By saving dogs, humans are saved.
In India, many stray dogs roam freely. They are not owned by people, neither are they wild. The community often takes care of the dogs. Most people in India freely share what food they can afford or sacrifice with them. However, not everyone in India loves dogs. Street dogs have attacked people causing fear and injury.
India has about 35 million dogs compared to the estimated 90 million dogs here in the US. Because of the lack of ownership of dogs in India, it is not possible to have the dogs brought to a central location for vaccination. Therefore, Mission Rabies sends teams out in the streets to locate and vaccinate the dogs. There are three aspects to the program: vaccinate, educate and gather data. Using smartphone technology, the teams map areas to vaccinate and accumulate data for analysis.
Mission Rabies’ cost to vaccinate one dog is approximately $2.50. This includes salaries and other costs. Using this figure, every dog in India could theoretically be vaccinated for less than $90 million. This is far less than the $490 million a year spent in India for post-bite treatment.
Though international experts believe mass vaccination is the best way to stop rabies and the Mission Rabies program in Goa has been quite successful, systemic and cultural hurdles are a reality in India. Regardless of the challenges free roaming dogs present for the people of India, they are very tolerant and do not wish for the dogs to leave. While Mission Rabies won’t be able to solve the hurdles presented by systemic and cultural issues, they are making a real difference in the health of dogs and people in India.
The one health approach is working. The goal of achieving optimal health by recognizing the interconnection of people, animals and the environment is a worthy one. Together you and My Pet’s support Mission Rabies’ effort to make a real difference in the lives of dogs and people worldwide by helping make the elimination of rabies an attainable goal.
Gorman, James (July 22, 2019). Rabies Kills Tens of Thousands Yearly. Vaccinating Dogs Could Stop It. New York Times,