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Eliminating rabies at its source

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During a stream of presentations on global travel and infectious diseases at the world small animal congress in Birmingham last week, Tiziana Lembo presented evidence to support attempts to eliminate rabies through vaccination in domestic dog populations in endemic areas across Africa and Asia. Arianwen Morris reports

DESPITE being a disease with a very high fatality rate, particularly in rural communities across the developing world, human rabies is ‘entirely preventable through post-exposure treatment or through the control of animal reservoirs’.

So said Tiziana Lembo, a research associate at the University of Glasgow, giving a presentation entitled ‘The global elimination of canine rabies: feasible or fantasy?’

Her take-home message was that, by tackling rabies in domestic dog populations across Africa and Asia – the worst-affected continents in terms of human mortality from the disease – it could be eradicated in these areas.

‘All mammals can be infected with rabies, including humans, but only a few species can actually act as maintenance hosts,’ she explained. Compartmentalisation of the disease meant that, in any given geographic area, specific species were responsible for the maintenance of different variants of the virus. In Africa and Asia, people were most commonly infected by transmission from infected domestic dogs.

From a UK perspective, not only was there a social obligation to help tackle neglected diseases overseas, but western Europe would benefit from being less at risk from reintroductions of rabies and from a decline in the demand for pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis treatments, which were costly for the public health sector, she said.

Concerns about reintroduction had increased since the Pet Travel Scheme had changed its rules to allow dogs to enter the UK from endemic areas after just four months in quarantine, instead of six, as was previously the case. Data from Africa had shown that …

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