High risk of rabies in Spain due to low vaccination coverage for dogs

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There is a high risk of rabies spreading in dogs, according to a rabies epidemiological study from MSD Animal Health in collaboration with the Institute of Clinical Immunology and Infectious Diseases (YNMUN Grupo Biomedicina) and the Department of Animal Health at the University of Cordoba.

day against rabies

The research was published on the occasion of Rabies Day on September 28. The World Rabies Day initiative is an initiative of the Global Alliance against Rabies (GARC) and is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). These organizations aim to educate the community about these deadly zoonotic diseases and the importance of vaccination to prevent them.

The disease affects more than 150 countries and kills about 60,000 people each year, according to data from the World Health Organization. The World Organization for Animal Health (WHO) recommends vaccinating at least 70 percent of dogs in risk areas to reduce human cases to zero.

re-emergence of disease

Rabies, which has a mortality rate of 99% in humans once the disease appears, is considered a resurgent disease worldwide. New types of virus are also emerging.
“Viruses know no borders. A vaccination rate of less than 70 percent is not only a danger to an independent community deciding not to vaccinate, but also has an equally remarkable impact on the immunity of the population (herd immunity) in the rest of the country,” said Fernando Farinas. He is co-author of the rabies epidemiological study, director of Ynmun and international coordinator of ZEIG (Expert Group on Zoonoses and Emerging Infectious Diseases).

Low frequency of rabies vaccination in dogs

The World Health Organization recommended on 25 July 1996 that Spain should not stop vaccinating dogs and cats under any circumstances. However, in the years 2019, 2020 and 2021, there was a very low rate of rabies vaccination in dogs. Vaccination rates were 11.49%, 11.8%, and 11.5%, respectively.

Local cases are sporadic in the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Experts say the geographic proximity of rabies-endemic areas and the transportation of unvaccinated animals that come into contact with dogs from these areas has contributed to these cases.

Additionally, in 2022, the arrival of pets with refugees from Ukraine, a rabies-infested country, put organizations such as the College of Veterinarians of Barcelona (COVB) on edge.

The obligation to vaccinate is not national in Spain

In Spain, the autonomous communities decide on the rabies vaccination strategy, which is mandatory in all countries except Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia. In Asturias, the vaccine is mandatory only for potentially dangerous dogs. In some regions, the vaccination rate is as high as 10% (Catalonia 11.5% and Galicia 9.7%) and this means that an outbreak can have fatal consequences.

viral disease

Rabies is a contagious viral disease that kills approximately 60,000 people worldwide each year. It was caused by RhabdoviridaeIt is a family of viruses that infect animals, plants, fungi, and protists. It is a public health problem in more than 150 countries.

The World Health Organization aims to eliminate the disease by 2030 and Spain has been rabies-free since 1978. But so far this year, five imported and highly isolated cases have been identified in Melilla. Experts attribute this to its proximity to Morocco, where the virus is located. These imported cases of rabies commonly occur in dogs and horses.

How is rabies transmitted?

Rabies is spread by the saliva of infected animals, which can transmit the virus by biting a person or other animal or even scratching deeply if they come into contact with their saliva, such as by licking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main source of transmission between humans is dogs in 99% of cases. But dogs are not alone. For example, bat disease has become a serious threat in America, Australia and Western Europe. Also, although rare, we can get sick by inhaling aerosols containing the virus.

How does the disease develop?

In general, the incubation period for rabies can range from 2 to 8 weeks, but the duration depends on the location of the bite and the distance from the brain. In the case of dogs, the main carrier of rabies, they can transmit the disease for up to 10 days after infection, as pets usually do not live beyond that period.

The stages of the disease are:

  • Incubation. The time between the bite and the appearance of the first signs. During this period, the dog appears to be healthy, asymptomatic and with no signs of illness. This stage can take anywhere from a week to a few months.
  • Prodromal: The first symptoms appear: the dog becomes more tense, afraid, more anxious, tired and can withdraw. This period can last from 2 to 10 days.
  • Aggressive stage: It is the most dangerous stage in which owners can be infected with rabies. At this point the dog is so excited that it can bite its master.
  • Paralysis: the last stage, moving from the last symptoms to death: the animal usually suffers from convulsions and eventually enters a coma.

What to do if symptoms are detected?

When the animal shows symptoms, the veterinarian must inform the health authorities of the suspected case. There is no turning back and the animal must be killed. Sometimes there are symptoms that can be confused with other diseases, especially nervous disorders, the animal must be kept in isolation for 14 days.

Because vaccines stop working after animals are exposed to the virus, preventive immunizations of dogs and cats are essential to prevent infection in pets and the potential for disease spread to humans.

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