The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has announced that canine rabies has disappeared from the United States.
The CDC caution that though this signifies a victory to some extent over the the fatal virus, dogs can however still be infected from raccoons, foxes, skunks or bats, but will not contract dog-specific rabies from another dog.
Rabies is a virus which evolves to match the animals it infects, and Dr. Charles Rupprecht an expert in rabies at the CDC says the strain most specific to dogs has not been seen anywhere in the United States since 2004.
In humans the incubation period for rabies can be as long as six years but it is only six months in a dog and it is the dog rabies virus which presents the the greatest risk to humans.
According to the World Health Organization rabies kills 55,000 people a year worldwide; it is easily prevented by a vaccine, but most people do not realize they have been infected and once symptoms begin to show, the virus is virtually impossible to treat.
The only known rabies survivor was a Wisconsin girl who was put into an induced coma in 2004 and all attempts to treat three other victims in the United States and one in Canada failed and all four died.
Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in mammals.
The virus has the capability of infecting virtually all mammals, but like most viruses it evolves and can be "typed" genetically and species-specific strains exist for bats, raccoons and skunks as well as for dogs.
Dr. Rupprecht says the dog rabies virus is completely different from a skunk rabies virus and while cats are susceptible, there is not a known rabies strain specific to domestic cats.
Rupprecht says the announcement is based on national animal rabies surveillance data and is the result of mandatory vaccination and licensing, and stray dog control, which has created a 'herd immunity' in U.S. dogs; he also says it is vital this is continued in order to protect dogs and people from the virus.
Dr. Julie Gerberding the director of the CDC says the elimination of canine rabies in the United States represents one of the major public health success stories in the last 50 years but there still remains much work to be done to prevent and control rabies globally.
In many countries such as much of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, India, China and the Philippines, canine rabies is still very common.
Japan, New Zealand, Barbados, Fiji, the Maldives, and the Seychelles are rabies-free as are Greece, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Uruguay and Chile.
The CDC made the announcement last week and 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), have designated September 8, 2007 as the first World Rabies Day.
The CDC says events are planned in at least 61 countries and will include educational presentations, animal rabies vaccination clinics, rabies awareness campaigns, and fundraising activities.
Dogs brought into the U.S. from other countries with canine-rabies could nevertheless prompt a return of the disease and change the country's current canine-rabies-free status.
The CDC says this means highlighting the need for global control and continued emphasis on rabies prevention and control from the local to national levels.
The CDC says although dogs are free from rabies, the disease can originate from other animals from as bats, meaning the disease remains a human threat in the U.S.