Washington, DC, September 27, 2013 (PAHO/WHO) ? Most countries in the Western Hemisphere have succeeded in eliminating human rabies transmitted by dogs, and experts say the remaining countries can reach that goal by 2015 if they dedicate the necessary resources.

On World Rabies Day (28 Sept.), the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is calling on its Member States to keep up their efforts to eliminate the disease.

"We know we can eliminate human rabies transmitted by dogs—we have the technical know-how and the tools—but we have to make sure elimination programs do not become victims of their own success," said Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO/WHO's Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis Department. "It's the final push that is needed now, and it's important to keep everyone on board."

In the Americas, human cases of rabies transmitted by dogs are currently limited to a few areas and are at an all-time low. Brazil and the Dominican Republic were the only two countries that reported such cases in 2013, and only three cases were laboratory-confirmed, according to data collected by PAHO/WHO's Pan American Foot-and-Mouth Disease Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This success has been possible thanks to the sustained commitment of governments to rabies elimination efforts, especially mass rabies vaccination of dogs, which is the main tool for eliminating human rabies transmitted by dogs. Education and awareness about the risks of rabies, responsible dog ownership, and the need for proper prophylaxis before and after possible exposure to the virus are also parts of a comprehensive rabies program.

Last August, the region's leading rabies experts—the heads of national rabies programs—recommitted to the goal of eliminating dog-transmitted human rabies by the year 2015. They also expressed concern, however, that the current low number of cases reported in the region and the declaration of rabies-free areas could lead to a shift of resources to other health priorities, jeopardizing efforts that started 30 years ago to eliminate this disease.

"The success of rabies prevention in Latin America is an example for other regions," said Deborah Briggs, of the Global Alliance of Rabies Control. "But this stubborn final stage is particularly important. Without constant vigilance, there is the danger that rabies will re-emerge, and the progress made so far will be lost."

Although the elimination of human rabies transmitted by dogs remains the focus of action in the Americas, data as of September 2013 show there are more reported cases of human rabies caused by wildlife than those caused by dogs. This is a stark reminder of the presence of rabies in wildlife and of the importance of maintaining awareness about the risks of handling wild animals.

PAHO is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) works with governments; veterinary, public health and education experts; and communities to develop policies and models to eliminate rabies in areas hardest hit by the disease. The mission of the Alliance is to eliminate human deaths from rabies and relieve the burden of rabies in animal populations, especially dogs.

World Rabies Day, held each year on September 28, was initiated by GARC in 2007 to create a global opportunity for people to unite in rabies prevention.



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