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Rabid Myths Debunked: Separating Fact from Fiction in Rabies Prevention

Rabies, a deadly viral disease transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, continues to be a significant public health concern worldwide. In Kenya, like many other countries, myths, and misconceptions surrounding rabies persist, hindering effective prevention and control efforts. It is time to dispel these rabid myths and shed light on the facts to safeguard human and animal health.

Myth #1: Rabies can be eradicated through mass culling of animals.

Fact: Mass culling or indiscriminate killing of animals, such as dogs, is not effective for rabies control or eradication. Culling campaigns have proven to be inhumane, costly, and ineffective in eliminating the disease. In fact, culling can lead to the displacement of vaccinated animals and the influx of unvaccinated or uncontrolled populations, potentially exacerbating the spread of rabies.

The most effective and humane approach to rabies control is through vaccination campaigns targeting the primary reservoir of the disease, which is domestic dogs in most regions. Vaccinating at least 70% of the dog population, combined with responsible pet ownership, proper waste management, and public education, has proven to be successful in reducing the incidence of rabies and protecting both human and animal health.

Rabies elimination efforts should focus on a One Health approach, which recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health. Collaboration between veterinary and public health sectors, along with community engagement and education, plays a vital role in achieving long-term rabies control and eventually eliminating the disease.

By dispelling the myth that mass culling is an effective solution, we can shift the focus towards evidence-based strategies, such as widespread vaccination, responsible pet ownership, and humane dog population management. These approaches have demonstrated their effectiveness in reducing the burden of rabies and bringing us closer to the goal of Zero by 30.

Myth #2: Once you receive the rabies vaccine, you are protected for life.

Fact: Rabies poses a significant threat in most regions in Africa and remains a public health concern. Every year, several human deaths are reported due to rabies, primarily transmitted by domestic dogs. Fortunately, there is a vaccine available to prevent rabies in animals and humans. But contrary to popular belief, receiving the vaccine once does not offer lifelong protection against the disease.

In animals in endemic areas (dogs, cats, equines, camels targeted livestock), it is recommended a yearly rabies vaccination after the first set of rabies vaccines in their first year of life. In wildlife it is recommended yearly rabies vaccine baiting set out in targeted areas and wild animal species.

In Human rabies vaccine consists of a series of shots given over several weeks after exposure to an infected animal or as prophylaxis for high-risk individuals such as veterinarians and animal handlers. The vaccine works by triggering an immune response in the body that creates antibodies against the virus. However, these antibodies can decrease over time, leaving individuals susceptible to infection again. It is recommended that people who are at risk for exposure to rabies receive booster shots every two years.

Myth #3: Only dogs can transmit rabies

Fact: Dogs in Africa are primary source of rabies transmission, accounting for approximately 99% of human cases. However, other domestic and wild animals can also carry and transmit the virus. Avoiding contact with any unfamiliar animal, alive or dead, is essential to minimize the risk of rabies transmission.

Myth #4: Rabies can be cured with traditional remedies

Fact: Traditional remedies, such as applying herbs or black stone to the wound, have no scientific basis and offer no protection against rabies. Immediate medical attention after a dog bite, along with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which includes thorough wound cleansing and a series of rabies vaccinations, is the only effective way to prevent the disease.

Myth #5: Rabies vaccines are too expensive and not accessible to everyone.

Fact: In many countries, in Africa , rabies vaccines are available and provided either free of charge or at a subsidized cost through government programs, NGOs, and veterinary clinics. Action for Protection of Animals Africa (APAA) has worked to improve access to affordable rabies vaccines through partnerships with local governments such as the Kajiado County Government. Such Vaccination campaigns and outreach programs aim to make vaccines accessible to as many people and animals as possible.

Myth #6: Rabies is only a concern for animal owners.

Fact: Rabies poses a risk to everyone, regardless of whether they own animals or not. Any individual, including children, can be at risk of exposure to rabies through encounters with infected animals. Public awareness and education are crucial in ensuring that people understand the risks and take necessary precautions, regardless of their direct involvement with animals.

Myth #7: Rabies can be contracted through mere contact with an infected animal

Fact: Rabies is primarily transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, allowing the virus to enter the body through broken skin or mucous membranes. Simply touching or petting an animal with rabies will not transmit the disease. However, if an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open wound, mouth, or eyes, the risk of transmission increases significantly. Proper hygiene practices, such as washing hands thoroughly after handling animals, are essential to minimize any potential risk.

By dispelling these misconceptions and spreading accurate information about rabies prevention, we can create a more informed society that actively takes part in controlling this deadly disease. Rabies prevention requires collaboration between governments, healthcare and veterinary professionals as well as communities to ensure a safer future for both animals and humans.

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