Basic Pet Care

Rabies and Vaccination Around the World

Rabies and Vaccination Around the World

Rabies is a viral disease that causes suffering and death in affected patients. The virus attacks and spreads through the nervous system, eventually leading to neurologic signs and death.

Compared to other diseases, rabies has an unusually prolonged time between exposure and disease symptoms. This made early vaccine innovator, Louis Pasteur, think that the disease could be amenable to immunologic protection. As early as 1885, Pasteur and two physicians vaccinated a 9 year old boy after he was attacked and bitten by a rabid dog. Pasteur's vaccine prevented the boy from becoming ill with rabies symptoms and saved his life.

Although rabies was is still a rare disease in the US, it stands out because of striking symptoms, like foaming at the mouth and hallucinations and a long and arduous death. Ninety percent of all human exposure worldwide is because of rabid dogs. Worldwide 59,000 people die each year from rabies, with the most common countries being India and Africa. Sadly, 40% of rabies deaths occur in children under the age of 15.1

Although these are harrowing statistics, rabies is 100% preventable today, because of Pasteur's work. The World Health Organization has begun to stockpile dog and human rabies vaccines because of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

For many years, Merck Animal Health has partnered with the Afya Serengeti project in the Serengeti region of Tanzania in eastern Africa. Part of the initiative provides rabies vaccination, including 200,000 doses of preventive rabies vaccine were given to local dogs in 2015. Hospitalization for human rabies infection in this region has dropped 92 percent. Because of the success of Afya Serengeti, Merck has commenced a new initiative called Mission Rabies to address this issue in other rabies hotspots in Africa and India.

Animal control and vaccination programs were implemented in the US in the 1940�s and there has been a steady decline in rabies cases ever since. Laws regarding the vaccination of pets have protected humans and kept our country virtually rabies free (only 1-3 human cases reported each year2). Rabies vaccine programs have been able to contain and control the risk of exposure from domestic dogs, but according to the CDC, 80-100 cases of rabid dogs and >300 infected cats are reported each year.2 This means there is still work to do to keep pets and humans safe from rabies.

Vaccination and education can end deaths from rabies worldwide, so we should all work together to address this highly preventable issue. Success is inevitable if we can work together to spread the word and the vaccine. The vaccines are safe and effective. Why wouldn't we want to prevent this horrible disease?


  1. Lavan RP, King AI, Sutton DJ, Tunceli K: Rationale and support for a One Health program for canine vaccination as the most cost-effective means of controlling zoonotic rabies in endemic settings. Vaccine, 2017;
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Accessed August 15, 2017.