By Laura Lockard, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Felix Lankester giving vaccination to dog

Dr. Felix Lankester giving a vaccination to a dog

In 2017, WSU and partners in the Serengeti Health Initiative have administered approximately 50,000 vaccines in East Africa and project to provide more than 120,000 by the end of the year. Since the inception of the project in 2003, Allen School researchers have administered more than one million vaccinations.

Children in East Africa where rabies vaccinations continue
Children in East Africa, where the rabies vaccination project continues

Rabies is preventable, yet it kills nearly 60,000 people worldwide every year; half of them are children.

“Rabies is the deadliest infectious disease known to man, with a case fatality rate of 100 percent,” said Dr. Guy Palmer, a WSU Regents Professor of Pathology, Jan and Jack Creighton Endowed Chair of Global Health and senior director of Global Health at WSU. “We have the ability to eliminate human rabies deaths while simultaneously protecting pets and wildlife.”

By understanding the epidemiology of the disease Allen School researchers are developing a new approach to empower communities to participate in rabies elimination. The work of WSU researchers Dr. Felix Lankester and Dr. Thumbi Mwangi are establishing rabies-free zones that will serve as a model for other regions challenged by the disease.

Global Reach

More than 99 percent of the people infected with rabies get it from the bite of an unvaccinated dog.

WSU is diligently working with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and MSD Animal Health which supplies vaccines free of charge, as well as other international and local partners, to eliminate rabies with the goal of no human deaths by 2030.

Additionally, WSU is participating in World Rabies Day (Sept. 28), a global effort to recognize the united push to continue vaccinating as many dogs as possible and providing post-exposure treatment to bite victims to eliminate human rabies deaths.

WSU Dr. Thumbi Mwangi vaccinating local dog
WSU Doctor Thumbi Mwangi vaccinating a local dog

To further build the rabies elimination program in Africa, Allen School’s Mwangi serves on Kenya’s National Rabies Elimination Coordination Committee that designs and oversees the government’s role in systematic and progressive reduction in rabies health burden toward elimination. Much of this initiative involves training health care workers to better identify, treat and report suspected rabies cases. This community-based surveillance will result in improved data quality for future interventions. Mwangi is also designing mass dog vaccination initiatives along with public awareness campaigns about rabies and the work of other partners.

Local Support

Through the Allen School’s Eliminate Rabies program, partners — including veterinary clinics around the U.S. — are aligning with the international effort because they understand the global impact of rabies and the extraordinary opportunity available to eliminate the disease in people and domestic dogs. One such partner is the Cascade Heights Veterinary Center in Seattle.

Owner, Dr. Kathleen Paulson stated, “We are excited to join the WSU Eliminate Rabies Campaign because it gives us an opportunity to help animals and humans (especially children) that are directly affected by this deadly virus. Rabies is a disease with a real possibility of elimination, and we are proud to be a part of that effort. Go Cougs!”

researcher Dr. Felix Lankester helping to create rabies-free zones in East Africa
WSU researcher Dr. Felix Lankester works to help to create rabies-free zones in East Africa

The Eliminate Rabies project has an initial goal to raise $10 million to catalyze its reach to other parts of Africa. Funds raised locally and globally will be used to further support a reliable vaccine bank, improve distribution and, because rabies does not respect international borders, build broader intergovernment partnerships to facilitate transboundary disease control networks.

“Logistically, we can get vaccines to the most remote parts of the world,” Palmer continued. “The Allen School is working with veterinary clinics from Seattle to Ft. Lauderdale to spread awareness and build widespread support and resources. With more resources Allen School researchers can build bigger rabies free zones reaching the people who face this risk daily. Working with our international partners and our local clinics we can eliminate this threat to human lives in our lifetime.”

A full list of veterinary clinics participating in the eliminate rabies program can be found here.

About the Eliminate Rabies project

Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health is developing the next strategies for the elimination of rabies as a human health threat

Through the Eliminate Rabies project, $10 will vaccinate a child’s dog from rabies and distemper, another major cause of mortality in young dogs. Ask your veterinarians if they are a part of this critical program.

A gift of any amount will move the effort closer to realizing a world where no child dies from canine rabies. To help, please contact Christie Cotterill, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Assistant Development Director, at cotterill@vetmed.wsu.edu or (206) 219-2402.