HONOLULU – Did you know Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day?
Established in 2007, World Rabies Day is a global health day of action meant to increase awareness of the rabies virus and its impacts around the world.
The day focuses on rabies prevention education, as well as inspiring community action to prevent transmission of the disease. This year’s theme is “End Rabies: Collaborate, Vaccinate,” which emphasizes combined efforts around the world to eliminate dog-associated human rabies by 2030.
“Stray dogs are the biggest risk to humans for the transmission of rabies – dogs are responsible for 99% of human cases of rabies,” explained Dr. (Maj.) Tselane Ware, director of Public Health Command-Pacific's Veterinary Services Directorate.
While rabies is not a commonly talked-about disease in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 59,000 people die worldwide each year from the illness, and unvaccinated dogs account for approximately 90% of all human exposures to rabies.
“Of those deaths, 40% are children in Asia and Africa,” said Ware. “Rabies is considered 100% preventable, but 99% fatal once contracted.”
Rabies infects the central nervous systems of mammals, ultimately causing disease in the brain, and if left untreated, death. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal.
“This is why it is so important for people to avoid contact with stray or feral animals in countries with any rabies risk,” said Ware. “The Indo-Pacific region has the full spectrum of rabies risk – from countries where rabies is very common and is responsible for human deaths every year, to countries that are considered rabies-free. This makes it all the more important for us to make sure we help keep rabies-free areas protected, and decrease the risk of rabies in areas where it is common.”
One of the ways military members and families can help with these efforts is by ensuring personal pets are correctly vaccinated, especially if the pets are traveling to an overseas location with their owners.
“Vaccines are the key to eliminating rabies in humans – make sure that your personal pets are appropriately vaccinated,” said Ware. “Vaccinate according to your local, state and country requirements, and make sure to keep up-to-date on requirements in preparation for any [permanent change of station] moves.”
Education is another key component to ending rabies, according to the CDC. Understanding the rabies risk and knowing what to do after contact with wild animals can save lives.
One of the best ways to do that is to find out if rabies is present in dogs or wildlife before international travel, Ware said.
“Make sure to educate children and family members on the risk of rabies, especially from stray dogs,” said Ware. “Don’t pet stray dogs in rabies-endemic countries – no matter how cute they are! Rabies can look different in different animals – you won’t necessarily know if a dog is rabid just by looking at them. They are not all like Cujo.”
When it comes to rabies exposure, time is of the essence, Ware said. If a person does not receive appropriate medical care after an exposure, human rabies is almost always fatal.
“If bitten or scratched by an animal, immediately seek medical attention. Proper administration of PEP [post-exposure prophylaxis] can prevent rabies infection,” said Ware.
Ware warned that children and family members are not the only ones at risk; service members traveling should also be on guard for rabies, especially in deployed locations and in developing countries.
“Being in the military puts us more at risk because of where we travel,” explained Ware. “In 2011 there was a young, healthy U.S. Army Soldier who contracted and died from rabies, despite all the medical care he received. He was bitten by a stray dog in Afghanistan, but didn’t report it. He became sick and died months later.”
While deaths from rabies are very rare in the military community, service members and families all play an important role in prevention.
“The military community is crucial in the prevention of rabies transmission around the world – whether through mitigating risk during military deployments, vaccination of personal pets, or even decreasing contact with at-risk wildlife,” said Ware. “Through these collaborate efforts, eliminating dog-associated rabies in humans by 2030 is an achievable goal!”
For more information about rabies visit: https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html