Rabies is a ‘zoonotic’ disease meaning it is caused by a virus which can be passed from animals to humans. It is found on all continents and infects wild and domestic animals. Worldwide, more than 50,000 people die of rabies every year, most of whom are aged 15 years or less.
People are at risk if they are bitten by an infected animal, typically a rabid dog. While dogs cause around 99% of cases, bat rabies has also recently emerged as a public health threat in Australia, Latin America and Western Europe. Human deaths following exposure to foxes, raccoons, skunks, jackals, mongooses and other wild carnivore host species can occur but are very rare.
If left untreated, rabies is nearly always fatal but swift administration of post-exposure prophylaxis with rabies immunoglobulins can prove highly effective.
Is it preventable?
Yes, rabies can be prevented by immunisation. However, despite the development of a safe and effective vaccine against rabies, the disease continues to threaten human life, particularly in Asia and Africa where 95% of cases are recorded.