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Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies


In this 2010 file photo, a veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Margie Mason)

In this 2010 file photo, a veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Margie Mason)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

In the United States, we often say that “dogs are a man’s best friend.” While it is true that dogs are popular pets, it is also true that in some parts of the world, a dog bite can lead to a painful death.

In fact, about 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites.

Rabies is uncommon in the West. But in India, and other parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, dogs that have not received anti-rabies vaccine continue to threaten public health.

A rabies death is a painful process. After a rabid dog bites someone, the virus invades the person’s central nervous system. Victims develop a severe and irrational fear of water. They convulse, or shake violently. Then they go into a coma and almost always die.

However, the rabies virus is not immediately active in the human body. It is usually inactive for at least 10 days after a bite. Sometimes it remains silent for months. This is called an incubation period. During incubation, vaccination can still prevent infection.

Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect – vaccinating dogs with rabies means fewer humans with rabies.

But many developing countries do not have dog vaccination systems in place. So, rabies still kills 70,000 people around the world every year. Most victims are children.

Animal scientists are calling for mass vaccination of dogs as a way to get rid of rabies.

Dogs in a bicycle basket about to get their rabies vaccination in Tanzania at a clinic run by Dr. Guy Palmer.

Dogs in a bicycle basket about to get their rabies vaccination in Tanzania at a clinic run by Dr. Guy Palmer.

One example of where this worked very well is in the African country of Tanzania. Public health officials there set up dog vaccination centers in 180 villages. Before the vaccination centers were set up, there were, on average, 50 rabies deaths every year in Tanzania. After the centers began working, that number dropped to nearly zero.

Guy Palmer is director of the School for Global Animal Health at Washington State University. He co-authored the study in Tanzania.

Mr. Palmer says researchers found that immunizing 70 percent of dogs wiped out rabies as a human threat.

“Before that, people had said, ‘Well, the dogs are running wild.’ We’ve shown that, in fact, that’s not true. These dogs tend to have owners, so they are available for vaccination. We can get 70 percent coverage.”

Mr. Palmer says 40 percent of those who get rabies from dogs in Africa and Asia are children.

Mr. Palmer wrote a report on the subject for Science magazine. It says that rabies could be permanently ended within 10 years. The scientists suggest using a method called “One Health.” The method brings together people doctors and animal doctors, or veterinarians. They immunize dogs against rabies and treat dog-bite victims.

“This is not something that requires 10 to 20 years of basic research to develop a vaccine. We have a vaccine that works perfectly. It’s really an implementation strategy, and a desire to do so. And one of the benefits is that any implementation strategy like this strengthens those infrastructures within the most vulnerable communities and countries.”

Mr. Palmer says a successful anti-rabies campaign strengthens medical systems. And this could have a positive domino effect when fighting other deadly diseases, such as Ebola.

And that’s the Health Report. I’m Anna Matteo.

VOA’s Jessica Berman wrote this report. Anna Matteo wrote it for Learning English. ­Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in this Story

irrationaladj. not thinking clearly; not able to use reason or good judgment

convulsev. to have an experience in which the muscles in your body shake in a sudden, violent way that you are not able to control

coma – n. a state of deep unconsciousness that lasts for a prolonged or indefinite period, caused especially by severe injury or illness

incubation period – n. the period between exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first symptoms

veterinary – adj. relating to the medical care and treatment of animals. A veterinarian is a doctor for animals

domino effect - n. a situation in which one event causes a series of similar events to happen one after another

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