Rabies has been eliminated from many countries but remains challenging in countries where dogs roam freely, India included.
Around 59,000 people die each year from the infection with a further 29 million people needing costly treatments after being bitten by dogs in areas where the disease is rife.
Researchers hope the study will provide evidence to support the introduction of the oral rabies vaccine in India as an extra tool in efforts to eradicate the disease.
According to researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, three times as many dogs could be vaccinated each day when the new process is combined with existing injectable techniques.–
Vaccines hidden in dog food could help curb the spread of rabies more effectively than injections, say UK scientists who conducted a study on street dogs in India.
There are an estimated 100 million stray dogs in India. Experts say that the combination of an injectable and oral vaccination approach could help them reach the minimum 70 per cent vaccine threshold needed to minimise the risk of rabies being passed to people.
The team worked with experts from Mission Rabies, and the Worldwide Veterinary Service to assess the feasibility of the approach in Goa.
The oral rabies vaccine is not yet licensed for use in India so the team embedded empty capsules in dog food to test the concept.
Working with the Government of Goa Animal Husbandry Department, teams on mopeds searched for free-roaming dogs, delivering capsules in an attractive bait. Each member of the team reached 35 dogs each day, compared with just nine using current vaccination methods.
They accessed 80 per cent of the dogs they spotted, compared with 63 per cent when only using the catch-vaccinate-release method.
The study, published in Vaccine X, shows that the combined vaccination approach could be cheaper, helping to further maximise limited resources.
Luke Gamble, of Mission Rabies says, “Rabies has a massive impact on societies, not only from the disease but also from the fear that results.
In many parts of the world, reaction to rabies cases fuels inhumane mass culls of dogs, which does nothing to combat the virus. We are showing that there is another way that benefits dogs, people and nations.
“This kind of operational research is crucial in pushing the boundaries and finding a solution to the age-old problem of rabies. Dog populations vary, so it is essential that methods are evaluated methodically,” said Mark Bronsvoort, of the University of Edinburgh.
While speaking to a city-based veterinary surgeon, he said, “The vaccination administered by veterinarians are only considered as safe vaccination.
The oral rabies vaccines will not harm the dog or cat but the vaccine will not replace the conventional rabies vaccines.”
Prachi Sharma, volunteer says, “If there is something like oral rabies vaccine available it will be very helpful. As for NGOs, it is difficult to catch the dogs and vaccinate them.
If they catch one dog other 10 dogs from the locality hide. While if there are oral vaccination for rabies, that can be mixed with food and feed to stray animals.
Pune also has a huge base of volunteers who work for stray animals. Even volunteers can feed the rabies vaccination to the dog and tie a collar on their neck so other volunteers don’t feed the same dog.
If such an initiative is implemented in the city, vaccines should be made available to experienced volunteers only. The city will then be hopefully rabies-free soon, Prachi added.
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