On September 7, the CDC declared the US free of rabies canine rabies at the Inaugural World Rabies Day Symposium.

The declaration is based on the national animal rabies surveillance data and attributes the elimination of canine rabies to the effort of state and local public health authorities in the prevention and control of rabies.

“The elimination of canine rabies in the United States represents one of the major public health success stories in the last 50 years,” stated Dr. Charles Rupprecht, Chief of the CDC Rabies Program. “However, there is still much work to be done to prevent and control rabies globally.”

Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in mammals resulting at least 55,000 human deaths annually around the world. The disease in humans is preventable though, according to the CDC.

“In non-vaccinated humans, rabies is almost invariably fatal after neurological symptoms have developed, but prompt post-exposure vaccination may prevent the virus from progressing,” according to wikipedia.

To raise awareness and funding for rabies prevention and control globally, the CDC and the UK charity Alliance for Rabies Control cosponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) designated September 8, 2007 as the first World Rabies Day.

“On this day, CDC and its global partners will celebrate successes in rabies prevention and control, while recognizing the challenges of global canine rabies elimination, human rabies prevention, and wildlife rabies control. Events are planned in at least 61 countries and will include educational presentations, animal rabies vaccination clinics, rabies awareness campaigns, and fundraising activities,” the CDC states in its weekly publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report dated September 7, 2007.

“We are looking at this as larger than a one-day event,” says Dr. Deborah Briggs, Executive Director of Alliance for Rabies Control, “This is the first-step in a long-term effort towards human rabies prevention and animal rabies control globally.”

In a press release, the CDC says that in the United States, canine-rabies was eliminated through implementation of dog vaccination and licensing, and stray dog control. “We remain optimistic that this official declaration of canine-rabies free status in the United States could be replicated throughout the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere.” says Rupprecht.

However, adoption of dogs from other countries with canine-rabies could bring the disease into the country and change the country’s current canine-rabies-free status, highlighting the need for global control and continued emphasis on rabies prevention and control from the local to national levels, the CDC says.

“The elimination of dog-to-dog transmission of rabies does not mean that people in the US can stop vaccinating their pets against rabies,” warns Rupprecht. “Rabies is ever-present in wildlife and can be transmitted to dogs or other pets. We need to stay vigilant.”

Although the dogs are free of rabies, the disease can originate from other animals from as bats, meaning the disease remains a human threat in the US, the CDC says.

“We can thank the tremendous historical efforts at the state and local levels over the past several decades for the ultimate elimination of canine rabies in the US,” says Dr. Rupprecht. “Our public health infrastructure, including our quarantine stations, local animal control programs, veterinarians, and clinicians all play a vital role in preserving the canine-rabies-free status in the US.” (FoodConsumer.org)

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