BUCHAREST, Romania — While the media causes panic over the new MERS disease, experts at the World Animal Health Organization claim MERS, which has killed around 200 people, is nothing compared to diseases like rabies that often get swept under the rug.
Rabies kills around 55,000 people worldwide every year, with 40 percent of those infected under the age of 15. These tens of thousands of deaths could be easily prevented with the administration of the rabies vaccine, which was discovered in 1885 by Louis Pasteur and Emily Roux.
However, a shortage of funds in developing nations means animals are not being vaccinated and people continue to get sick. Vaccinating dogs is most important, as dog bites account for 99 percent of rabies deaths in humans.
After being bitten by an infected animal, the onset of rabies in a human can be prevented if the wound is cleaned quickly and efficiently. Even after cleaning, an individual should receive medical treatment for a bite. Rabies has an average incubation period of 3 to 12 weeks, and it is during this time that individuals must seek treatment. Rabies attacks the central nervous system and symptoms in humans include pain, convulsions, fever, loss of muscle function, muscle spams, numbness and tingling, difficulty swallowing, drooling and restlessness. More developed symptoms can include the irrational fear of water and extreme irritability. After symptoms become present there is no cure.
As many as 15 million people are treated for rabies every year, and while the treatment is effective when administered quickly enough, it is much more costly than vaccinating dogs, cats and other animals that carry the disease. OIE believes that rabies could be eliminated for about one-tenth of the cost of treating patients after the fact, but they have not been able to convince donors of this, and thus the international investment in rabies prevention is relatively low. Because of this, poor countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia continue to treat rabies after the fact, and some countries, such as Romania, even respond to rabies outbreaks by rounding up and killing all the dogs in the area in something know as “culling.”
The act of culling concerns experts, who say the practice may make a rabies outbreak worse as it involves bringing dogs in contact with one another. Additional concerns are raised by the quality of vaccines that actually are being administrated. Many of the vaccines being given to animals are “live” vaccines, which are very cheap and carry a live strain of the virus, which can result in the animal becoming infected instead of building up antibodies, which is what happens when an inactive vaccine is administered.
OIE continues to push their message that vaccinating animals is 10 percent of the cost of rabies treatments, and hopes that people and the media will take note on the alarmingly high number of people, especially children, who fall victim to the disease every year. Children are especially vulnerable because they often approach animals unafraid, do not know how to recognize a rabid animal and are not always capable of effectively communicating to an adult that they have been bitten.
Doctors recommend treating all animal bites for rabies, since once symptoms appear, death is inevitable. The cause of death from rabies is usually stoppage of the heart and lungs during a seizure. The most that can be done for someone suffering from rabies is to comfort him or her with sedatives and pain relievers in their final days.