Rabies

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.

The OIE has long been committed to tackle the disease, supporting its Members in the path towards a rabies-free future. Dog-mediated rabies is set for elimination by 2030. With this goal in mind, the OIE strives to coordinate intersectoral action at a global level and to accompany countries in the development and implementation of their national rabies strategies.

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, making low-income countries disproportionately affected by the disease.

Around 99% of human rabies cases are due to bites from infected dogs

More than 95% of the world’s fatal rabies occur in Africa and Asia
More than 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 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.

A successful national control programme to eliminate dog-mediated rabies includes the following measures:

Surveillance and reporting

Objective: monitoring the disease trends and detecting potential new cases as early as possible.

Mass dog vaccination campaigns

Objective: tackling 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 stray dog populations

Objective: Reaching a rabies immune or rabies-free dog population, while ensuring that animal welfare is respected.

Public awareness and education campaigns

Objective: 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 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-mediates 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.

OIE 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 OIE International Standards (Article 8.14.11. of the Terrestrial Animal Health Code). Applications are carefully reviewed by the OIE to verify the efficiency of the measures in place. 

Having an OIE-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.

All the self-declarations of dog mediated freedom are listed here

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

on how to compile documented evidence of compliance with the requirements on the endorsement of an official control programme for dog-mediated rabies

for official disease status/endorsement of control programme applications

During the OIE 88th General Session in May 2021, Namibia and the Philippines were the first Members to receive the OIE endorsement of their official control programme for dog-mediated rabies (Resolution No. 21).

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, the OIE 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).


OIE Vaccine Bank for rabies

Since 2012, the OIE 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 OIE Standards, in a timely manner, and at a globally competitive price, the OIE Rabies Vaccine Bank helps countries carry out vaccination campaigns.

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

26 million dog rabies vaccines have been delivered through the OIE Rabies Vaccine Bank (September 2021)

OIE Rabies Vaccine Bank: Vaccinating dogs today to save human lives tomorrow
OIE Rabies Vaccine Bank 2018

In-country evaluation missions

In the framework of the PVS (Performance of Veterinary Services) Pathway, the OIE 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 OIE 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.

The OIE 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, the OIE, WHO and FAO (the Tripartite) 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, the Tripartite Organisations (WHO, OIE, FAO) 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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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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 2021: Facts, not Fear

#Zeroby30 #WorldRabiesDay #factsnotfear

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. To help raise awareness about the disease, the OIE has produced a wide range of tools, both printable and digital. The offer includes posters, certificates, flyers, videos and social media frames.

OIE Campaign “Rabies Ends Here”

This campaign aims to generate a sense of pride in people who have had a dog vaccinated against rabies and create a social trend to increase the number of community members involved in vaccination campaigns.


Videos

No more deaths from rabies
Vaccinate your dog! Protect yourself!
Fighting rabies in Asia
The Philippines Rabies vaccination campaign: A One Health success story

Animations


Brochure


Infographics


Key publications


Publications


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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. OIE recommendations can be found in the OIE 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.

What are the public health risks associated with this disease?

The occurrence of rabies in domestic dogs poses a threat to humans and it is still a major concern in many developing countries. The disease can have economic consequences in some countries when it affects livestock (e.g. cattle, horses, small ruminants).


Should cases of rabies be notified to the OIE?

Rabies appears on the list of animal diseases in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. It is therefore compulsorily for national Verterinary Authorities to notify the OIE 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 the OIE’s goals regarding rabies control?

The OIE’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 OIE 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.