It’s a dog-eat-dog world: 59,000 rabies deaths a year
There was a farmer, had a dog,
and Cujo was his name-o.
And Cujo was his name-o
Every dog has its day, even – or especially – those that have rabies and cost billions of dollars and thousands in human lives. “At the moment, our best estimate from this recent study is that about 59,000 people across the world are dying of rabies every year,” Global Alliance for Rabies Control’s Dr. Louise Taylor, coordinator of the Partners for Rabies Prevention Group, said. “And that’s just the burden from canine rabies transmitted by dogs.” The study she refers to is a new global report developed by the University of Glasgow.
Rabies is mainly transmitted through the saliva from the bit of a dog – not this one though – but also bats, and “it does tend to affect children slightly disproportionately and the WHO estimates probably about 40 to 60 percent of the victims are children under the age of about 16. And that comes about because with it being transmitted by dogs children tend to be attracted towards dogs. And they may not understand exactly how to behave around a dog. They may provoke the dog a little bit more than maybe an adult would. And so they tend to both be affected more by dog bites and also by more severe dog bites,” Taylor said.
The tried-and-true method of treating a dog that has rabies is to blow its brains all over the pavement, Atticus Finch-style. For people who have been bitten by a rabid dog, however, treatment involves a series of injections, and while this approach may make you long for a bullet through the head, the fact remains that it is necessary what with the disease affecting the central nervous system and leading to brain death. Moreover, “aside from the deaths that we have, we have problems with the income that those people could have generated. And so there’s a wider societal cost that’s impacting heavily on developing countries, particularly. And then there are all the costs in terms of the control efforts that are being put in,” Taylor said. “So although control efforts are not adequate to prevent all the deaths, they are preventing a large number of deaths. So, when we add up all those costs together this recent study has basically come out and said: a total cost of about $8.6 billion to the global economy every year.”
All of this financial, as well as human and animal loss could be avoided by practicing prevention. Nonetheless, although dog vaccination is common in the United States and other developed countries and despite the fact that prevention tools exist, many of the countries where the disease is endemic – especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America – do not use them. “In the developing world, the infrastructure of the veterinary systems and also the health systems is just much less developed,” Taylor said. “And there are just not wide-scale distribution networks for vaccination. We’re also looking at a population that is really at the poor end of the spectrum. And so those people do not necessarily have the money available to vaccinate their dogs. And there’s also an awareness issue as well that we need to build awareness that this can be prevented."