A Relook at Rampant Rabies in India


Dr Sandeep Karkhanis
You might think it’s 2020 and rabies is a disease we left behind in the 1900s. Did you know that every nine minutes, rabies takes one human life globally and dog bites contribute up to about 99 percent of transmission from animals to humans? Let’s relook at the situation of this neglected rampant disease in India. -by Dr Sandeep Karkhanis

Present in more than 150 countries, rabies is rather predominant in Asia and Africa. It is a tropical, zoonotic viral disease occurring in both domestic and wild animals. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers rabies among the 15 deadliest diseases for mankind, annually consuming hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide for prevention and control.
World Rabies Day
World Rabies Day is observed on September 28, commemorating the death of Louis Pasteur, the creator of rabies vaccine who also laid the foundation of rabies prevention. Education and vaccination of animals is recognised globally as the best protection against human exposure. However, an area where we still need to make a huge difference is creating more awareness of the disease.
It is crucial, we intercept animal to human transmission of rabies on all fronts— immunising pet and stray dogs, avoiding reintroduction of the disease through wildlife vaccination, and helping communities establish structures to fight rabies themselves.
Indian scenario
In a country like India, rabies is responsible for an average of 25,000 to 35,000 human deaths each year. Most of the deaths occur in economically backward areas and in individuals under the age of 15. A main reason behind this is of the lack of awareness of vaccinations for stray dogs. Government initiatives like National Rabies Control Programme (NRCP) and Animal Component work towards zero-surveillance, mapping of dog population and mass vaccination programmes. However, we still have a long way to go in successfully reducing human mortality caused by rabies.
100 percent preventable
Rabies is 100 percent preventable with the right vaccination and awareness. Pet parents and veterinarians can be key partners in the global fight against rabies by ensuring pets are vaccinated. Unvaccinated dogs remain the main source of human rabies infection globally, and according to the WHO, by vaccinating at least 70 percent of the world’s dog population, human deaths due to rabies could be eliminated. However, due to issues in logistics or problems in co-ordinating various agencies, progress in the control of rabies is often slow and transmission of rabies from wild animals to dogs also complicates rabies control.
Easy tips to follow
Here are some easy tips each of us can follow, to mitigate our pet’s risk of being exposed to rabies –
• Don’t leave your pet food outside: This can attract wildlife, potentially putting your pet at risk. This may also draw rodents, foxes, monkeys, and other wild animals into human habitat.
• Alert animal control or police to report an animal who is acting strangely: If you come across such an animal, report immediately and maintain your distance. If that animal attacks you, immediately seek medical attention. Post exposure, vaccination has been instrumental in saving lives.
• Do not engage with unknown dogs: Loose animals are more likely to have been exposed to rabies and attack others. Keep your pets away from strays too.
• Vaccinate your pets as required by law: All pets of more than four months of age must be vaccinated against rabies. Always keep vaccinations frequent and up to date
Need for a powerful partnership
A rabies control strategy requires careful consideration and preparation. Building a long-term strategy requires consistent initial and long-term planning involving various stakeholders, whose support is necessary to ensure a successful and integrated approach.
Collaboration between wildlife experts, veterinarians and human health officials can fight the disease effectively and sustainably.The WHO’s goal of eliminating dog-transmitted rabies is of enormous scale and complexity. A task that no one government, institution, NGO or company can solve on its own. Yet, through powerful partnerships, sustained efforts and a holistic approach, each party can make a valuable contribution.
(Dr Sandeep Karkhanis is Head of Animal Health, Boehringer Ingelheim India)