Rabies

Multiple species

With a fatality rate of almost 100% in humans and animals alike, rabies remains a global threat, killing approximately 59,000 people every year. Dogs are the main reservoir of the disease. Controlling and eliminating the deadly zoonosis means, therefore, combatting it at its animal source.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals (dogs, cats, foxes etc.), including humans. The rabies virus is particularly present in the saliva and brain of infected animals, most commonly dogs, and is transmitted by a bite. Bats also represent an important reservoir in certain regions. A high presence in wildlife species can create multiple opportunities for cross-species transmission, mostly affecting domestic animals and humans.

As it can pass between animals and humans, rabies is a zoonotic disease (or a zoonosis).

The symptoms may be nonspecific at first, but include lethargy, fever, vomiting and anorexia. Within days, signs can progress to cerebral dysfunction, ataxia, weakness and paralysis, breathing and swallowing difficulties, excessive salivation, abnormal behaviour, aggressivity and/or self-mutilation.

The incubation period may vary from several weeks to several months, but once rabies symptoms appear the disease is invariably fatal both in animals and humans.


Rabies: one of the deadliest zoonosis

For over 4,000 years, rabies has plagued almost every corner of the world and much effort has been made towards its elimination. Although it has been eliminated in Western Europe, North America, Japan, South Korea and parts of Latin America, the viral disease is still present in large parts of Africa and Asia.

Most deaths from rabies, both in humans and animals, are due to inadequate access to public health resources and preventative treatment. This means that low-income countries are disproportionately affected by the disease.

99% of human rabies cases

are due to bites from infected dogs

>95% of rabies deaths

occur in Africa and Asia 

>80% of rabies cases

occur in rural areas with limited or inexistent access to health education campaigns and post-bite treatment

4 out of 10 rabies deaths

are in children


Dog-mediated rabies elimination is possible

Unlike for many other diseases, the tools needed to eliminate dog-mediated rabies already exist. It is 100% preventable and rabies vaccines for dogs can efficiently eliminate the disease at its animal source.

Dog mediated rabies elimination
Dog vaccination has contributed to eliminating rabies as a major public health and economic burden in several countries around the world.

 

Rabies control programmes

Some countries have already managed to eliminate rabies by applying strict preventative measures, but it remains present in other countries, mainly affecting wild host species.

In countries where the disease is endemic, measures should be taken to control and reduce the risk of infection in vulnerable populations (wildlife, stray and domestic animals), thus creating a barrier between the animal source and humans. Human deaths from rabies exposure can be prevented by developing and implementing a coordinated strategy against the disease.

Key components of a successful national control programme for dog-mediated rabies

Surveillance and reporting

to monitor the disease trends and detecting potential new cases as early as possible.

Mass dog vaccination campaigns

to tackle the disease at its animal source. Vaccinating at least 70% of dogs in at-risk areas can reduce human cases to zero.

Effective control of dog populations

to reach a rabies immune or rabies-free dog population, while ensuring that animal welfare is respected.

Public awareness and education campaigns

to improve the understanding of the risks related to rabies, as well as how to prevent them


These measures need to be implemented alongside access to human medical care and post-bite treatments. In this regard, collaboration with human health authorities, under a One Health approach is crucial to their success.

The development and implementation of effective rabies control programmes are crucial to reduce the public health and economic burden of rabies, however, they are a major challenge for many countries. Adequate funding for disease elimination, both at an international and a national level, as well as prioritisation of the issue on the governments’ agendas, are key to helping these countries make strides against rabies. Over the years, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) has been encouraging governments and international donors to invest in rabies control programmes, and particularly in the vaccination of dogs.


The endorsement of official control programmes for dog-mediated rabies

Dog-mediated rabies is targeted for elimination by 2030. Meeting this goal requires that rabies-affected countries adopt an efficient strategy to tackle the disease.

Members can, on a voluntary basis, apply for the endorsement of their official control programmes for dog-mediated rabies. Such recognition is a key asset for national Veterinary Authorities, as it helps them advocate governments for increasing support and prioritising investments in rabies control, a fundamental step to further implement their programmes.

To receive such endorsement, countries need to collect evidence that their programmes comply with international Standards (Article 8.14.11. of the Terrestrial Animal Health Code). Applications are carefully reviewed by WOAH to verify the efficiency of the measures in place. 

Having a WOAH-endorsed control programme will also set out a clear path for countries to eventually eliminate the disease from their territories and declare freedom from infection with the virus, thus contributing to the global goal to eliminate human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

To know more about WOAH endorsement for official control programmes and its benefits, consult our brochure and success stories below.

  • Rabies cases reduced in Philippines

    Philippines: Collaboration is critical in navigating the rabies minefield

    The country has recently gained the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) endorsement for its official control programme for dog-mediated rabies. This milestone will contribute…

    Discover
  • Namibia’s control programme for dog-mediated rabies gets WOAH official endorsement as the country makes progress towards the elimination of the disease

    Over the last six years, Namibia has developed and implemented a national strategy to tackle rabies, with technical support from the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) and the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI)…

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WOAH provides assistance to countries with the preparation of their dossiers. Guidance documents are available below:

International Standards on rabies

Veterinary Services play a key role in addressing health risks linked to rabies through coordinated activities with other relevant public institutions and/or agencies.

To support them in this mission, WOAH develops science-based standards, guidelines and recommendations to prevent and control rabies in animals, to secure the international movement of dogs and cats originating from rabies-affected countries and manage stray dog populations. The Organisation also publishes standards on the diagnosis of the disease and the production of high-quality veterinary vaccines.

These texts are regularly revised, with the emphasis on the epidemiological importance of the animal species most frequently linked to human cases (commonly dogs).


Vaccine Bank for rabies

Since 2012, WOAH has established a Vaccine Bank for dog vaccination against rabies and provides support to its Members upon request.

By providing high-quality vaccines complying with Standards, in a timely manner, and at a globally competitive price, the Rabies Vaccine Bank helps countries carry out vaccination campaigns.

With the financial support of Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, and Japan, WOAH had facilitated the delivery of dog rabies vaccines to 37 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia. Vaccine doses can either be directly delivered through WOAH, or be ordered by countries or international organisations. In the framework of the Tripartite Alliance (WHO, WOAH, FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) has notably decided to place its procurement orders for canine vaccines through the Rabies Vaccine Bank.

26.9 million dog rabies vaccines have been delivered through the Rabies Vaccine Bank

Infographic – Rabies Vaccine Bank (PDF)

In-country evaluation missions

In the framework of the PVS (Performance of Veterinary Services) Pathway, WOAH can conduct evaluation missions led by independent experts, at the request of its Members, with a specific focus on rabies.

The objective is to identify strengths and weaknesses in the measures in place to tackle the disease and to support countries in developing their national strategies for rabies control and elimination, in compliance with International Standards.

A first pilot mission is foreseen to be conducted in 2022 in the Africa region.

The final output is a comprehensive report that provides a complete overview of the national situation with regard to rabies and proposes targeted solutions to address potential gaps. Among these, the IHR-PVS National Bridging workshops with a rabies focus (NBW-Rabies) organised in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) aim to enhance cross-sectoral collaboration between the human and animal health sectors, to address the disease in a coordinated way at country level.

One Health: sharing expertise across sectors

An effective rabies control strategy can only be achieved through a One Health collaboration between partners focusing on the same goal and implementing coordinated strategies.

WOAH works closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and others to develop international recommendations aimed at ensuring continued intersectoral collaboration and worldwide implementation of the most appropriate strategies to end dog-mediated rabies.


The Global Strategic Plan ‘Zero by 30’

In 2015, the Conference “Global elimination of dog–mediated human rabies: The Time Is Now” offered the platform for an urgent call to action to tackle the disease and set the goal to reach zero human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

Building on this international momentum, WOAH, WHO and FAO, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), have since developed the Global Strategic Plan Zero by 30. With each partner bringing their specific expertise to the table, the Global initiative launched in 2018 provides the basis and global tools for a coordinated response to rabies and aims to support countries in their elimination efforts.

Countries are at the heart of this global strategic plan. Developing and implementing their own national programmes with global tools, structures and the needed support empowers them to progress towards national goals as they fight against rabies.

The plan’s first annual report highlighted both the remarkable advances made during the first year and the need to enhance its strategic approach by incorporating new lessons learnt.


United Against Rabies Forum

To build on the strong foundation created through the partnership on Zero by 30, WOAH, together with FAO and WHO subsequently launched the United Against Rabies Forum (the Forum) in 2020. The Forum is an inclusive, multi-lateral network bringing together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds to share knowledge, experience and ideas that will support countries and regions in developing and implementing effective rabies elimination programmes.

Working groups will progress priority activities to help countries build national strategies and pursue advocacy and resource mobilisation initiatives. It also provides stakeholders with a central platform so they can easily access these resources, while annual stakeholder meetings foster networking between the numerous actors involved in rabies elimination.

  • Namibia’s control programme for dog-mediated rabies gets WOAH official endorsement as the country makes progress towards the elimination of the disease

    Over the last six years, Namibia has developed and implemented a national strategy to tackle rabies, with technical support from the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) and the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI)…

    Discover
  • Rabies cases reduced in Philippines

    Philippines: Collaboration is critical in navigating the rabies minefield

    The country has recently gained the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) endorsement for its official control programme for dog-mediated rabies. This milestone will contribute…

    Discover
  • namibia rabies success story

    Namibia: Supporting national strategies against rabies

    Northern Communal Area (Namibia) – 2016-2018 Implementing a national rabies elimination strategy is a long-term process which involves many different actors. In order to best…

    Discover
  • Myanmar has rediced rabies cases with the help of WOAH

    Myanmar: Sharing the message on rabies to save lives

    Myanmar 2016 to 2018 ‘Rabies kills’. Daw Kyi, a 68-year-old farmer, grew up hearing this statement and stories about regular human and dog rabies cases…

    Discover
  • WOAH has helped curb rabies in Haiti

    Haiti: Vaccinating dogs to move towards rabies eradication

    Haiti April 2017 Among the existing measures to eradicate the disease, dogs’ vaccination plays a central role. In 2017, the Haitian National Anti-rabies Programme carried…

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  • Tunisia Rabies Success Story

    Tunisia: Vaccinating stray dogs to save human lives

    Tunis (Tunisia) Rabies still kills humans in several parts of the world. 95% of human rabies cases are caused by bites from infected dogs. Therefore, vaccinating…

    Discover
  • WOAH has helped reduce rabies cases in Lesotho

    Lesotho: Rehabilitating veterinary facilities to prevent rabies in dogs

    Maseru (Lesotho) September 2016 The access to quality veterinary facilities is essential for efficient rabies control in affected countries. It contributes to managing dog populations,…

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Members of the public, owners of dogs and other animals, journalists, veterinarians or governments, all have a role to play in the global fight against rabies. In this daily effort, the sharing of information is instrumental to achieving success.

World Rabies Day 2022: One Health, Zero Deaths 

#Zeroby30 #WorldRabiesDay

Each year, World Rabies Day is celebrated on the 28 September. World Rabies Day (WRD) is a day of action and awareness-raising, solidarity and commemoration. It is also a chance for the international community to join a global movement rooted in local action and engagement by organising or participating in any event, whether virtually or offline.

This event is also an opportunity to remind stakeholders that the fight against rabies is not limited to a single day but needs to be conducted in a sustainable way to ultimately decrease the number of rabies deaths.


Learn More


Publications

What is rabies virus?

The rabies virus belongs to the genus Lyssavirus, a group of viruses responsible for causing encephalitis. Twelve distinct lyssavirus species can be distinguished within the genus, the classical rabies virus (RABV) being the most important one for public and animal health. The different RABV variants circulate in carnivores, most commonly domestic dogs and cats and, depending on the continent, various other species of carnivores (including foxes and jackals) or chiroptera (bats).

Where is the disease found?

Classical rabies virus is found throughout the world. Some countries have implemented stringent sanitary measures, which led to the successful elimination of the disease. In other countries, the disease remains endemic, with rabies present in dogs and/or in wildlife.

How is rabies transmitted?

Rabies virus is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Infection occurs primarily via bite wounds: approximately 99% of human cases are due to bites by infected dogs.

How does rabies virus spread within the body?

The virus generally remains at the entry site (such as a bite wound) in the body for a period of time before travelling along the nerves to the brain, where it multiplies. The virus then moves along nerves to the salivary glands.

What is the incubation period for rabies?

The period before clinical signs appear in an infected animal can vary from several days to several months depending on the strain of virus, the species, the individual and the point of entry in the body. The disease can therefore be transmitted to other animals and humans via the saliva of an infected animal, sometimes even before the onset of clinical signs in the infected animal, posing a dangerous threat to anyone coming into physical contact with the animal.

What are the clinical signs of rabies in animals?

The clinical signs of rabies may vary depending on the effect of the virus on the brain. In its classical form, the disease manifests itself with sudden behavioural changes: infected animals, especially wild animals, can lose their natural fear of other animals and humans, allowing them to come into unusually close proximity and contact, especially with humans. As the disease evolves, it causes cerebral and cranial nerve dysfunction, ataxia (a lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements), weakness, progressive paralysis, seizures,
difficulty breathing and swallowing, as well as excessive salivation. Aggressive behaviours and self-mutilation can also be observed. The disease progressively leads to death.
In some cases, however, the behavioural changes are minimal, and the animal may die rapidly without showing any significant clinical signs.

How is rabies diagnosed?

The disease may be suspected based on clinical signs, but laboratory tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis. Samples taken from dead animals must be sent to competent laboratories for diagnosis. WOAH recommendations can be found in the WOAH Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals.

What should you do in case of a bite by an animal, whether wild or domestic?

Any bite by a domestic or wild animal must be investigated. The incident must be reported to a veterinarian, who will then take the appropriate measures. The bitten person must quickly consult a doctor or medical expert. The wound must be immediately and thoroughly washed for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Should cases of rabies be notified to WOAH?

Rabies appears on the list of animal diseases in WOAH Terrestrial Animal Health Code. It is therefore compulsorily for national Veterinary Authorities to notify WOAH of any rabies case in a timely manner. At the same time, countries may also voluntarily publish self-declaration for rabies-free status.

What are WOAH’s goals regarding rabies control?

WOAH’s mandate is to encourage transparency in notification of the disease by its Members while also stimulating governments to invest in priority control programmes such as rabies prevention, in particular through vaccination of dogs, the
main source of the disease for humans.

What is the purpose of rabies vaccination programmes?

High-quality anti-rabies vaccines for dogs, developed in compliance with WOAH Standards, are available. Vaccination of dogs is the preferred method of controlling and eliminating rabies worldwide. For epidemiological, ethical and economic reasons, the culling of animals that are potential reservoirs cannot be considered as the priority for control and
elimination of rabies. All successful rabies elimination campaigns have included measures combining control and vaccination of stray dog populations and vaccination of all owned dogs.
In wild animals, oral immunisation using vaccine-containing baits has produced excellent results in some animal species (fox, raccoon, skunk, etc.) and has proved an effective solution to control rabies in foxes in Western
Europe.

Can rabies be eliminated?

Analysts have estimated that just 10% of the financial resources currently used for emergency treatment of people bitten by rabid dogs, within the context of postexposure prophylaxis, would be sufficient to enable national Veterinary Services throughout the world to eliminate rabies at its source – rabid dogs – and therefore prevent almost all human cases worldwide.