On Sept. 8, numerous professional organizations—including veterinary and public health authorities—industry partners, and students worldwide will celebrate the inaugural World Rabies Day.
The Alliance for Rabies Control, a United Kingdom-based charity, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coordinated the event, which has attracted support from groups such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), World Veterinary Association, AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, and Student AVMA.
"We wanted to make the world aware that rabies is a disease that is 100 percent preventable, and there's no reason why we can't prevent it," said Dr. Deborah Briggs, executive director of ARC, which started the grassroots effort in 2006.
"The ultimate goal is to eliminate canine rabies, and when you eliminate canine rabies in developing areas where it's such a problem, the number of human rabies death goes down dramatically."
According to the OIE, rabies is a neglected, under-reported zoonotic disease killing 50,000 to 60,000 people each year around the globe.
To increase awareness about rabies prevention, events are planned on or near Sept. 8 in Canada, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, United Kingdom, and United States. Each event is unique. In the United States, for example, the Milwaukee County Zoo will host a community awareness program in recognition of the event. In Peru, the Ministry of Health will coordinate a parade and festival in Lima.
Veterinarians at the fore
At its July 11, 2007, meeting, the AVMA Executive Board approved partnership with the CDC for collaboration on outreach opportunities for World Rabies Day.
"The AVMA's partnership with the CDC on World Rabies Day exemplifies the mission of the AVMA to improve both human health and animal health," said Dr. Lynne White, assistant director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division. "The partnership also shows that strong collaboration between public health and animal health partners truly enhances the lives of both people and animals."
The AVMA, along with other associations, has worked closely with event organizers in developing a tool kit to aid veterinarians in spreading the word about rabies prevention. The tool kit includes the AVMA brochure "What you should know about rabies," a list of ideas on how to support the event, and message points to use when talking with clients.
"I think one of the most important things veterinarians can do is to educate their clients about responsible pet ownership," Dr. Briggs said. "(Another) is to include children in that education because, most of the time, it's children that get exposed and bitten because they don't know how to act around dogs, cats, or other animals."
Along with promoting rabies prevention, World Rabies Day also serves as a celebration of veterinarians' contribution.
"The elimination of canine rabies transmission here in the United States was a major public health landmark, and that milestone could not have been accomplished without the direct participation of the veterinary community," said Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the CDC rabies program.
"So one, it's a celebratory act of recognizing what the role of the veterinarian was," he said about World Rabies Day, "but more importantly, (it's) realizing the active role of the veterinary community today in maintaining that standard and making sure that companion animals are our best buffer to being vaccinated indirectly as a means of human rabies prevention."
Veterinary students contribute
At the veterinary student level in the United States, as many as 25 of the 28 Student AVMA chapters are actively participating in World Rabies Day. The event ties into the association's inaugural One Health Challenge. The fall initiative encourages each chapter to select a timely topic that helps educate the public about the diverse knowledge and skills of the veterinary profession.
To celebrate World Rabies Day, many of the chapters are hosting a Run for Rabies race, while some are also organizing dog walks. One chapter intends to visit children at area schools to teach them about rabies prevention. All these events are aimed at raising money for rabies prevention and control projects of the ARC.
"We felt that it was a great opportunity for SAVMA to be able to provide aid to a philanthropic organization, and to help educate the public about the diversity and depth of the profession, particularly how we can relate to public health," said Justin Sobota, president of SAVMA and a third-year student at the University of Florida.
"In addition, we recognized that this was a world event, and so that certainly intrigued us in that we want to be a part of something that was going to help educate people around the world about rabies."
In the beginning, organizers of World Rabies Day hoped to engage at least 55,000 people to take action Sept. 8, one for every person who dies needlessly of rabies each year. But organizers said the event has far succeeded that initial goal.