Rabies is 100 percent preventable, according to Guy Palmer, an infectious disease expert at Washington State University. Although the illness claims roughly 69,000 people each year across the globe - and an unknown number of non-human mammals - "People shouldn't be dying at all," he says in a statement.
Mass dog vaccinations could break the chain of infection, Palmer and his colleagues write in the journal Science. They point to a Tanzanian project, where up to 1,000 dogs are vaccinated against rabies each day, spread across 180 villages. Before 2003, when the initiative began, the virus claimed 50 human lives a year. Today, that number has dropped to virtually nothing. Felix Lankester, a WSU researcher working in East Africa, credits that decline to vaccinating roughly 70 percent of the Tanzanian dogs.
The spirit of this initiative dates all the way back to the late 1800s, when famed microbiologist Louis Pasteur (the same chemist behind the milk pasteurization process) created a rabies vaccine and proceeded to inoculate hundreds of Europeans.
It's high time to move forward with Pasteur's vision of a rabies-free world, the researchers say. "We know how and we have the ammunition to do it," Lankester tells Reuters. "I am optimistic that it can be done. Whether the necessary political will and funding will be harnessed is another matter."
Rabies, if left untreated, has a high likelihood of being fatal to both dogs and humans. The American Animal Hospital Association considers the rabies shot to be a "core" vaccine, critical to a pet dog's health.