Rabies in India, an outlook

Rabies, a viral disease affecting terrestrial and airborne mammals, is mainly transmitted by Dog and bat bites. Rabies is classified as zoonotic disease world over as it is transmitted to human from animals and dog remains a main source transmitting rabies to Human and other animals in India.

The disease, as old as human civilization and its association with dogs, has a mention in Atharvaveda. The name might have derived from “Rabhas” in Sanskrit means “to Rage

It is one of the most feared diseases after cancer where prognosis is grave in almost 100% cases. Though it is eradicated in some part of the world, it remains a matter of great concern in Asia, and particularly in India.

More than 15 million people are bitten by dogs. The reported deaths are around 20 thousands annually from rabies in India, which is highest in any of the countries. It is mainly affecting lower socioeconomic group due to their exposure to the non-vaccinated rabid dogs. 40% dog bites are in children under age of 15.

In India, though the pet dogs are being taken care by the pet parents, stray dogs, which is around 60% of total dog population, are the main source as they contribute 99% rabies transmission and human death. Various programs are being implemented like animal birth control and prophylaxis vaccination. While prophylaxis vaccination is being done regularly in well maintained dogs both by pet parents and veterinarians, stray dogs vaccination is posing a great challenge looking at the increasing population of stray dogs and difficulties in capturing and vaccinating them. Also reaching to all stray dogs for Animal Birth Control (ABC) is a massive task involving huge manpower requirement and facilities to conduct procedure. Lack or inconsistent veterinary/medical facilities in remote interior places also contribute to improper execution of anti-rabies campaigns. Stray dogs, thus remain a potential reservoir and carrier of deadly Rabies.

The Rabies is preventable only through the prophylaxis as presently treatment is not available being a viral origin. Prophylaxis therefore becomes a most important tool to reduce spread of rabies. However, a public awareness is of utmost importance. The increase in dog population is the biggest factor that needs to be addressed while making a definite strategy to eradicate Rabies.

The following measures can be considered for prevention of rabies in India.

  1. Compulsory licensing of the pet dogs by the civic authorities – This need to be strictly followed with legal aid so as to inculcate responsibility of the pet owners towards society in prevention of rabies. Preferably it should be morally and self-initiative which would have greater impact than compulsion.
  2. Strict Vaccination of dogs regularly with registration at civic record. This step may seem to have difficulties but on a larger part of zoonotic importance of the disease, must be executed. The vaccination of stray dogs would remain a billion dollar question which, unless and until answered, eradication of Rabies would be near to impossible.
  3. Controlling population of the stray dogs is a major concern as their numbers are rising. At present the surveillance of this group a not available and though many organizations are working voluntarily on animal birth control, the objective to reduce stray dog population is nowhere near.
  4. Vaccination of the people working close to the rabies prone animals can be a way to reduce death caused by rabies. Rural part of India would largely benefit from this initiative where dogs are associated with people without being taken care, like preventive vaccination.
  5. Regular domestic animal preventive vaccination would be very beneficial in agriculture dominated areas.
  6. Interdisciplinary approach with clear and consistent coordination within animal and human health organizations would greatly benefit in spreading awareness about rabies and its prevention. Rabies being a zoonotic disease, a well-planned strategy involving veterinarians, medical doctors, diagnostician, NGOs and civic bodies would be a great boon to prevent rabies.

India being a vast country with huge human population, eradication of the diseases always poses a great challenge. Adding to it is illiteracy, traditional ways to treat patient, inadequate infrastructure both in veterinary and medical facilities, absence of trained workers particularly in remote places, poor execution of planned strategies. However, looking at the success of Polio eradication compaign in Human and Zero Rinderpest in cattle, making India Rabies free would not be impossible.  Collaboration between the World Health Organization, World Organization of Animal Health (OIE), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), and Global Alliance for Rabies Control has a goal of eliminating deaths from rabies by 2030. We Indians need to make it happen with strong determination at all levels, starting from the common people to the highest implementing authorities. Let’s make India, ZERO RABIES COUNTRY BY 2030.