Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist November 2012 Contents 846 Australian Pharmacist November 2012 I ©Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ltd.
Rabies is closer than you think
By Andrew Daniels
Australians have been urged to ensure they
are vaccinated for rabies before leaving
Executive Director of the Global Alliance
for Rabies Control, Dr Deborah Briggs,
from Canada, was in Australia last month for
World Rabies Day (28 September).
She told Australian Pharmacist that one of
the most important things for tourists to do
before leaving is to get information about
the countries they are visiting, talk to a
travel medicine expert and get vaccinated.
Also speaking on World Rabies Day,
Professor Michael Ward, from the University
of Sydney (U/Syd), warned that rabies,
which kills an estimated 100,000 people
a year, is present just 350 kilometres from
Northern Australia -- less than the distance
from Sydney to Dubbo.
'If it reached our shores it would have
serious ecological, public health, economic
and social impacts.'
Professor Ward, the Chair of Veterinary
Public Heath and Food Safety at the U/Syd is
conducting research to identify how rabies
spreads and the risks of future outbreaks,
such as evaluating surveillance systems to
detect a potential incursion in the Top End
and Torres Strait.
He said that during the past 10 to 15
years rabies has spread to areas of eastern
Indonesia that were previously rabies-free,
such as Flores and Bali. In 2010, the disease
reached the Tanimbar Islands, part of the
Moluccas, just 350 kilometres north of the
Dr Briggs pointed out that in Bali, a popular
tourist destination for Australians, there
have been deaths from rabies.
According to Dr Briggs, the Global Alliance
for Rabies Control, established in 2006,
works to eliminate human deaths from
rabies, and to relieve the burden of rabies in
animals, especially dogs.
She said the Global Alliance for Rabies
Control, is saving lives through education.
'We are leading the way, by encouraging
countries to urge their populations to
participate in rabies prevention, even if it's
as simple as educating one's neighbour on
how to prevent rabies,' she said.
Dr Briggs, who has served as Executive
Director of the Global Alliance for Rabies
Control for the past five years, also sits on
the WHO Expert Committee for Rabies. She
specialises in rabies diagnostics and the
prevention of rabies in humans and animals.
Professor Ward said The U/Syd's Faculty of
Veterinary Science is researching rabies
in Indonesia and its potential to spread to
neighbouring regions that are currently
free of the disease, specifically Timor Leste,
Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia.
'Our work overseas involves observing
and recording when and how often dogs
are being transported between islands
including direct observations of ferries and
fishing boats. Estimating the size of the dog
population in rabies-free areas is also an
important component of determining risk.
In northern Australia, the research team
from the Faculty is applying a similar
approach, recording the movement of
dogs between communities to determine
how rabies might spread, should it be
introduced. While some government
surveillance for rabies is already being
undertaken the team is assessing additional
surveillance systems to better detect a
Professor Ward said, 'dingoes, as a
top predator, play a crucial role in
maintaining ecosystem diversity and if
their numbers were substantially reduced,
it could affect many other species in this
'Potential economic impacts on the
cattle industry should also not be
underestimated. Cattle losses from rabies
can be significant and would be very hard
to prevent if rabies got into the Top End.
And of course, controlling rabies would be
'To prevent rabies entering Australia,
we must help all our near neighbours to
increase their alertness and preparedness,
and also help Indonesia to reverse this
seemingly inexorable spread of rabies to
the southeast,' said Dr Helen Scott-Orr,
an affiliate of the Faculty of Veterinary
Science, current board director of the
Invasive Animals Cooperative Research
Centre and Animal Health Australia, and
former Chief Veterinary Officer of NSW.
She said that experience in Flores, Bali and
elsewhere shows that to eradicate rabies a
level of 70% vaccination coverage across
the dog population -- tame and wild -- must
be maintained for several years.
'This sounds simple but is extraordinarily
difficult and also very costly. Culling wild
or stray dogs, which may seem logical, just
doesn't work, and can actually do more
harm than good,' Dr Scott-Orr said.
Rabies, a zoonotic disease, is a potentially
fatal virus transmitted to people through
scratches, bites or close contact with
saliva from infected animals on broken
skin.1,2 It is prevalent throughout much
of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.1
Australian health authorities recommend
pre-exposure vaccination for expatriates
and travellers who will be spending
prolonged periods (more than 30 days) in
1. NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 9th Edition.
2008; Chapter 2.2: Vaccination for international travel.
2. World Health Organization (WHO). Rabies fact sheet;
September 2011. WHO Available at http://www.who.int/
mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/ [last accessed 27 July 2012].
Links Archive Australian Pharmacist December 2012 Australian Pharmacist October 2012 Navigation Previous Page Next Page