April 16, 2015, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Rabies is a fatal viral disease largely transmitted to humans from bites by infected animals —predominantly from domestic dogs. The disease is entirely preventable through prompt administration of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to bite victims and can be controlled through mass vaccination of domestic dogs. Yet, rabies is still very prevalent in developing countries, affecting populations with limited access to health care. The disease is also grossly underreported in these areas because most victims die at home. This leads to insufficient prioritization of rabies prevention in public health agendas.
To address this lack of information on the impacts of rabies, in this study, we compiled available data to provide a robust estimate of the health and economic implications of dog rabies globally. The most important impacts included: loss of human lives (approximately 59,000 annually) and productivity due to premature death from rabies, and costs of obtaining PEP once an exposure has occurred.
The greatest risk of developing rabies fell upon the poorest regions of the world, where domestic dog vaccination is not widely implemented and access to PEP is most limited. A greater focus on mass dog vaccination could eliminate the disease at source, reducing the need for costly PEP and preventing the large and unnecessary burden of mortality on at-risk communities.