Rabies is one of the oldest zoonotic diseases (diseases passed from animals to humans) known to mankind. Here in the U.S., most people’s pets are protected from rabies by regular vaccinations from the veterinarian. So when we think about rabies cases in the Americas, we tend to imagine raccoons and foxes, or bats roosting in roofs and hiding in rafters. But rabies can infect virtually all mammals.
In other parts of the world, we should instead be thinking about dogs. Up to 99% of human rabies cases in Asia and Africa are caused by dogs. When a person contracts rabies through the bite of an infected animal, the virus travels along the nerves until it reaches the brain. Once there, it causes inflammation, followed by some of the classic symptoms like foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior. Because there is no cure for rabies, the disease is often fatal.
Access to canine rabies vaccines and public health campaigns are highly effective in preventing outbreaks in people and other species. However, in less developed regions or rural areas with little access to veterinary services, unvaccinated dogs can pose a significant threat. Rabies carried by dogs kills about 2,000 people in Kenya every year, many from rural areas.
In October, Global Health Program veterinary fellows Drs. Maureen Kamau and Ellie Milnes participated in the annual Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign in Laikipia County, Kenya, which aims to eradicate (or completely eliminate) the virus from the region.