Dog Bite and Rabies Prevention: The Role of One Health

August 25, 2017
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

Dr. Pendergrass received her DVM degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Following veterinary school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory Universitys Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Dr. Pendergrass is the founder and owner ofJPen Communications, a medical communications company.

How can One Health strategies be used to strengthen coordination between animal and public health services to prevent dog bites and rabies?

An ethnographic study conducted in Canada reported underdeveloped dog bite surveillance and shortcomings in policies to prevent dog bites and rabies. The study’s findings, recently published in Social Science & Medicine, highlight the importance of One Health in combating human and animal health problems.

Each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), millions of people (primarily children) are dog bite victims and 55,000 people die from rabies. Yet, dog bites and rabies are underrecognized global problems.

WHO recently supported a plan to eradicate human rabies by 2030. However, because dog bites and rabies are intertwined, the current study’s authors contend that “such a plan cannot be effectively deployed without drawing upon the One Health concept and without attending to the multi-species entanglements that surround rabies.”

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WHO has also promoted several rabies prevention efforts, including dog bite prevention, increased rabies vaccination rates, and better access to post-exposure prophylaxis. A One Health approach to prevention, the authors emphasized, would consider both animal and social welfare.

Given the current underrepresentation of One Health in the social sciences, the authors examined the intersection of animal control and public health policies in Canada.

Data Collection

From 2013 to 2016, the researchers analyzed policies on animal welfare, dog bites, and rabies prevention in Canada’s Alberta province and throughout Canada. The city of Calgary was a specific focus, given its widely lauded animal control policies and responsible pet ownership bylaw.

The researchers also interviewed animal control officers, veterinarians, and physicians specializing in public health and preventive medicine.

Results

Dog Bite Prevention

In Calgary, dogs that bite humans are assessed by specially trained animal control officers and are usually either returned to their owner or rehomed; they are rarely euthanized. In addition, complaints of intimidating dogs are taken very seriously.

The city also encourages pet owners to license their dogs, resulting in a 90% licensing rate. Licensing funds are reinvested into One Health initiatives, including dog bite education and subsidized sterilization surgeries to control the dog population.

Despite these positive findings, the researchers uncovered several shortcomings:

  • Dog bite surveillance is underdeveloped throughout Canada
  • Use of emergency services for dog-related injures varies greatly across Alberta
  • Animal control and public health services for dog bites are not well coordinated

Such shortcomings are especially problematic for Canada’s indigenous children, who are at higher risk for dog bites and live in areas without animal control services.

Rabies Prevention

In Canada, more resources are poured into rabies prevention than dog bite prevention. This is troubling, the authors noted, given that dog bites are the primary vector for rabies transmission to humans. Other problems were identified as well:

  • Rabies policies typically do not adopt a One Health strategy
  • Demand for subsidized sterilization surgeries often outstrips supply in Calgary
  • Alberta Health Services does not actively ensure a 100% rabies vaccination rate

Although rabies is far less common than dog bites, the authors emphasized continued vigilance, in part because rabies is still endemic in several Canadian wildlife species, and these species may expose dogs to rabies.

Because rabies vaccination benefits dogs and people, “policies and programs that enable widespread vaccination of dogs against rabies instantiate One Health promotion,” the authors wrote.

Future Recommendations

The authors proposed several recommendations to incorporate One Health into dog bite and rabies prevention:

  • Include vaccination and dog bite prevention into rabies prevention programs
  • Devise research and intervention strategies that encourage coordination between animal and public health services

Taken together, the authors concluded that “greater coordination is urgently needed to reduce the negative impacts of both dog bites and rabies, especially in disadvantaged communities.”

Dr. Pendergrass received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Following veterinary school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Dr. Pendergrass is the founder and owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company.