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How To Save 60,000 People from Rabies? Vaccinate Dogs

What's the World's Deadliest Virus? 0:42

Worldwide vaccination of dogs could virtually eliminate rabies in people, but world leaders just can’t be bothered to care about it, experts said Thursday. More than 60,000 people die every year from rabies — most of them children in Asia and Africa — but nearly all cases come from domestic dog bites. It’s almost 100 percent fatal once symptoms show up. "The irony is that rabies is 100 percent preventable. People shouldn't be dying at all," said Guy Palmer, a veterinary infectious disease expert at Washington State University. “Where dog rabies has been locally eliminated, the disease disappears in all species,” Palmer and colleagues wrote in a commentary in the journal Science, timed to coincide with World Rabies Day.

The World Health Organization says 15 million people worldwide are vaccinated against rabies every year after a bite or some other exposure to rabies. But the shots cost $40 to $50 — beyond the reach of most poor people, who are at greatest risk. “It is the poor who die; they are more frequently victims of rabid dog attacks, they suffer fatal delays in trying to access PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), or simply cannot afford to pay for it,” Palmer’s team wrote. A team from Palmer’s school, working with local health experts, can vaccinate as many as 1,000 dogs a day in Tanzania. Since they started their program, almost no one’s died from rabies in the area, down from 50 every year. It’s something WHO is working on, too, but the agency has trouble raising funds and getting cooperation. Canine rabies — a specific strain of the virus — was eliminated in the U.S. in 2007 with vaccination.

IN-DEPTH

— Maggie Fox