WesternU joined organizations worldwide in raising awareness of rabies with a series of lectures and activities commemorating World Rabies Day, Sept. 28, 2010.

The mission of World Rabies Day is to raise awareness about the impact of human and animal rabies, how easy it is to prevent it, and how to eliminate the main global sources, according to www.worldrabiesday.org. Rabies in humans is 100 percent preventable through prompt appropriate medical care. Yet, more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year – a rate of one person every 10 minutes.

“This campaign offers all of us a unique opportunity to increase global awareness of the most deadly disease known to humans,” says Dr. Deborah Briggs, Executive Director for the Alliance of Rabies Control. “A major part of this effort is the declaration of an annual World Rabies Day on Sept. 28. Events are planned throughout the world to increase awareness about rabies, and to raise support and funding towards its prevention and control.”

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal.

The most important global source of rabies in humans is from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. Children are often at greatest risk from rabies. They are more likely to be bitten by dogs, and are also more likely to be severely exposed through multiple bites in high-risk sites on the body. Severe exposures make it more difficult to prevent rabies unless access to good medical care is immediately available. This major source of rabies in humans can be eliminated through ensuring adequate animal vaccination and control, educating those at risk, and enhancing access of those bitten to appropriate medical care.

Emily Beeler, DVM, Los Angeles County Public Health Department, Veterinary Public Health and Rabies Control, visited WesternU as part of World Rabies Day activities, held throughout the week.

The public has a lot of misconceptions about rabies, she said. Some people don’t think rabies still exists. In 2009, 6,690 rabid animals were diagnosed in the U.S., including 226 rabid animals in California. The majority were wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes.

Reducing the number of rabies cases in the U.S. was accomplished through effective implementation of dog vaccination, licensing and stray dog control. In 1937, Los Angeles County had 1,730 rabid dogs. By 1946, that number was reduced to 217.

The last reported locally-acquired rabies in a dog in Los Angeles County occurred in 1966, according to Los Angeles County statistics. Before the 1950s, there were 20 to 25 human cases of rabies each year in the U.S., and now there are less than three per year.

But there is no magic wand that will eliminate rabies forever, Beeler said. Rabies cases could begin to increase again if efforts to prevent rabies falter. When veterinarians administer a rabies shot to a pet, they are carrying out their responsibility to protect humans as well as that particular animal, Dr. Beeler said.

“If you’re going to save people from getting rabies, you can’t do it without paying attention to animals,” Beeler said. “Rabies is a perfect example of how human and animal health intersect.”

An interprofessional WesternU team organized lunch lectures and panel discussions on rabies throughout the week and also provided free rabies vaccines for pets at a Health Screening & Resource Fair on Sept. 25.

Dr. Andrew Schreibman from Merial gave a presentation on Oct. 1 about the fight to limit the spread of raccoon strains of rabies along the Eastern seaboard, where it is endemic, to the plain states and western states. This effort is being spearheaded by the USDA using oral vaccines placed in palatable baits made by Merial, which are dropped by aircraft and eaten by raccoons. Without this vital prevention program, 50 years from now raccoon rabies might be found across the entire country. As rabid raccoons tend to be particularly aggressive, the impact on humans and other animals would be very serious.

WesternU’s World Rabies Day activities will conclude with the World Rabies Day Soccer Tournament from 1:30 to 7 p.m. Oct. 23, 2010 at the Upland Sports Arena, 1721 W. 11th St., Upland, Calif., organized by the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association.