Rabies isn’t a new disease. But for those of us who grew up in suburbia, well-off metropolitan areas, or other places where stray dogs and wildlife are less than common, we have little experience with it. We understand the threat it poses, and even without that knowledge we would shy away from animal bites, but few have any conception of what living with this constant threat feels like. Jonathan Owen of the Independent, a British publication, shares with readers the realities of the disease: its symptoms, transmission, stories from victims, and the not-so-gentle reminder that we need to be vigilant in both our avoidance of stray and wild animals in foreign countries and our support of programs that are on the ground, vaccinating and combating this rampant disease.
Owen takes data from the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control to show that somewhere between 55,000 and 70,000 people die from rabies every year and roughly 10 million are treated for bites from potentially infected dogs. 20,000 of these deaths come from India alone, and the majority of these deaths are children under the age of 15. In Asia and Africa, this disease on a daily basis threatens slightly less than half our world’s population. And it’s still spreading- the first case in Bali appeared in 2008 and the entire island was affected with cases within 6 months. British travelers return from locations in Africa and Asia in need of rabies treatment has tripled since 2000. Hawaii, Australia, and Antarctica have thus far escaped infection.
I occasionally forget that science is never enough. We know how rabies is transmitted and we have a vaccine if administered quickly after the bite, but without the resources to make vaccinations affordable, control potentially infected dog and other wild mammal populations, the science isn’t as protective as it could be, as it should be.