World Rabies Day – Vaccinate or not?

The debate around vaccination, whether for our companion animals, our children or our elderly family members is in the forefront once again during the Covid-19 pandemic.  As countries work diligently to find a possible vaccine for this virus the media is alive with both positive and negative proponents for vaccinating in general.  Today is World Rabies Day and the opportunity to look at a vaccine for humans that was first discovered in   The vaccine has almost obliterated the incidences of rabies around the world as the rabies vaccine is considered a ‘core’ vaccine for dogs and cats.  Advancement in vaccinations have made it possible to only vaccinate an animal every 2 -3 years.  So why vaccinate at all?  Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through the saliva or nervous system tissues of an infected mammal to another mammal. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system and causes severely distressing neurological symptoms, disease in the brain, and, ultimately, death. 

Similar to the Covid-19 virus, rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means that it can pass from other animals to humans. Rabies is the deadliest disease on earth with a 99.9% fatality rate because there is no effective treatment once clinical symptoms appear.  However, if proper medical treatment (post-exposure prophylaxis, PEP) is received immediately after exposure to the bite or scratch of a rabid animal, rabies infection can be halted before symptoms of the disease are present, and the disease can be prevented.  Ensuring that animals continue to follow a vaccination program help to maintain the status of countries that do not have any reported cases of rabies.

Countries generally recognised as rabies-free countries because of the stringent measures in place to control the spread and infection of rabies are: American Samoa, Antigua, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, England, Fiji, French Polynesia (Tahiti), Guam, Hawaii, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Saint Lucia, Scotland, Singapore, Sweden, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos Islands, United Kingdom and the Vatican. Countries that still have rabid infection and spread of rabies, because animals are not vaccinated see a high fatality rate from merely a scratch from a domestic dog, or nip from an infected cat. 

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