ALMOST 60,000 people die every year from rabies transmitted by dogs, a Scottish-led study has found.
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 could 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 about 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 damage 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 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 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.
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