Rabies is a zoonosis (disease transmitted to humans by animals) caused by a virus that affects domestic and wild animals, and spreads to people through contact with infected saliva through bites or scratches. Rabies is present on all continents, except Antarctica, but more than 95% of human deaths are recorded in Asia and Africa.

Once the symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal. Rabies is an unhealthy disease of poor and vulnerable populations, where deaths are rarely reported. It occurs mainly in isolated rural communities, where no measures are taken to prevent the transmission of the disease from dogs to humans. Subnotification of rabies also prevents the mobilization of resources from the international community to eliminate human rabies transmitted by dogs.

The region of the Americas has the necessary knowledge and tools for the elimination of rabies transmitted by dogs. Coordinated actions for the regional elimination of human rabies transmitted by dogs began in the Americas in 1983, with the technical cooperation of PAHO, responsible for the coordination of the regional program for the elimination of rabies, as well as the operation of the regional epidemiological surveillance system of rabies.

Key facts
  • 40% of people bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under 15 years of age.
  • Immediate, thorough wound washing with soap and water after contact with a suspect rabid animal is crucial and can save lives.
Fact sheet
  • Rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease which occurs in more than 150 countries and territories.
  • Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans.
  • Rabies elimination is feasible through vaccination of dogs and prevention of dog bites.
What PAHO does

Since 1983, countries in the WHO Region of the Americas have reduced the incidence of rabies by over 95% in humans and 98% in dogs. This success has been achieved mainly through the implementation of effective policies and programmes that focus on regionally coordinated dog vaccination campaigns, raising public awareness, and widespread availability of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Today, only 4 countries in the region still have cases of rabies.