September 29 is observed as World Rabies Day which is a day of action and awareness for rabies prevention. It also marks the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death, the French chemist and microbiologist, who developed the first rabies vaccine. World Rabies Day was set up in 2007 to raise the global awareness about rabies, to provide information on how to prevent the disease in at-risk communities and support advocacy for increased efforts in rabies control. Pasteur found that rabies is transmitted by agents so small that they could not be seen under a microscope revealing the world of viruses. Pasteur’s early vaccine could cause serious, even fatal, reactions, but it was a start on the road to today’s effective vaccines. Rabies has a long history in medicine and now is well-known. He developed a vaccine to keep dogs from getting rabies and to treat humans that get bitten by dogs with rabies. Pasteur developed “pasteurisation” to prevent harmful microbes in perishable food products by using heat to destroy microbe without destroying food. There are two forms of rabies; “Furious” rabies that largely affects the brain and causes an infected animal to be aggressive or excitable and “Paralytic” or “dumb” rabies, mainly affects the spinal cord, causing the animal to be weak-limbed, lazy, and unable to raise its head or make sounds because neck and throat muscles are paralysed. Rabies is a zoonotic viral disease that is transmitted through the saliva and nervous tissue of an infected animal. Rabies is a sensitive and highly fatal viral infectious disease affecting the central nervous system. Rabies can develop if an infected animal bites a person, or if saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or through a mucous membrane, such as the eyes or mouth. It cannot pass through the unbroken skin. It is an opportunity to unite as a community and for individuals, NGOs and governments to connect and share their work. In India, rabies is caused mainly by non-vaccinated stray dogs, while in advanced countries, bats cause rabies far more often. More than 99 per cent of all rabies cases in humans is transmitted from dogs. Rabies is present in the nerves and saliva of an infected animal. While human beings usually cannot fight a potential rabies infection without medication, some bird species have been known to develop antibodies and recover from the disease. Amongst domestic animals, the dog is the commonest source of infection to man. The other domestic animals like cow, horse and camel etc. can be infected when bitten by a rabid dog and hence, these animals can transmit the disease to a man on biting. A stray dog which seems more aggressive or more passive than normal, which is salivating or foaming at the mouth or eating unusual things is thus, a suspect candidate for rabies.
Rabies is an incurable disease that causes inflammation of the brain and eventual death. There is no way to stop or retard the progression of the disease once it has begun, and death almost always results within two weeks. The disease causes up to more than 50,000 deaths annually. Therefore, effective vaccination is necessary to counter the threat of contracting rabies.
World Rabies Day is a day of awareness but it has also become an integral part of national, regional and global rabies elimination strategies. The global adoption of 2030 as the goal for the elimination of rabies as a public health threat has led to even greater opportunities for World Rabies Day to make a sustainable impact on rabies, by bringing the attention of policymakers and donors to the ongoing situation and elimination efforts in rabies-endemic countries. Rabies is a serious disease, but individuals and governments can and must take action to control and prevent, and, in some cases, wipe it out completely.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)