Rabies transmitted by dogs kills 60,000 people a year, study finds

Report finds average of 160 people a day die of the almost completely preventable disease

A study has found that almost 60,000 people die every year from rabies transmitted by dogs.

The report is the first to consider the impact of canine-spread rabies in terms of deaths and the economic costs of the disease around the world.

The UK was declared rabies-free in 1902, with almost all human deaths occurring in Asia and Africa, but in 2003 it was recognised that some British bats may carry a rabies-like virus.

The study, led by the University of Glasgow, estimates that annual economic losses because of the disease are around £5.7 billion, mostly due to premature deaths but also because of spending on human vaccines, lost income for victims of animal bites and other costs.


It found that 160 people die every single day after catching the entirely preventable disease from dogs, amounting to around 59,000 deaths a year.

Rabies is usually transferred through saliva from the bite of an infected animal, with dogs being the most common transmitter. It affects the central nervous system, causing disease in the brain and death and, although a pre-exposure vaccination is an effective treatment, people in the poorest countries do not have access to it.

India has the highest number of fatalities, with more than 20,000 human deaths annually.

While rabies is nearly 100 per cent fatal, it is also almost 100 per cent preventable.

The best and most cost-effective way is by vaccinating dogs but experts said the proportion vaccinated is far below that necessary to control the disease across almost all countries of Africa and Asia.

They said the countries that have invested most in dog vaccination are the ones where human deaths from the disease have been virtually eliminated.

Improving access to human vaccines would also help. Although the rabies vaccine is not routinely advised for Britons travelling abroad, immunisation is recommended for those working in other countries and who by the nature of their work are at risk of contact with rabid animals.

The last recorded case of anyone having rabies in the UK was in May 2012 when a woman returned home after being bitten by a dog in India. She died despite efforts to save her at London’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

An investigation by the Channel 4 programme Dispatches in 2013 suggested the UK is at a higher risk of rabies following changes to quarantine rules a year earlier.

Dr Katie Hampson, of the University of Glasgow, who led the study with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control's (GARC) Partners for Rabies Prevention Group, said: "The breadth of data used in this study, from surveillance reports to epidemiological study data to global vaccine sales figures, is far greater than ever analysed before, allowing this more detailed output."

GARC executive director Professor Louis Nel said: "This ground-breaking study is an essential step towards improved control and eventual elimination of rabies. An understanding of the actual burden helps us determine and advocate for the resources needed to tackle this fatal disease.

“No one should die of rabies and GARC and its partners will continue to work together using a One Health approach towards global rabies elimination.”