Within the past three months, a rabies epidemic has claimed the lives of at least 93 children in Angola’s capital city of Luanda. With the population of the city exceeding 4.5 million, most in Luanda live in slums with unhygienic conditions. Hospital physicians were unable to save any of the children due to a global shortage of rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine, both required for post-exposure treatment before the onset of symptoms. Due to the high number of deaths within such a short time period, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a thorough investigation.
Luanda’s large stray dog population has been identified as the cause of the rapid spread of the disease. Despite this, stray dog control programs have been impossible to implement due to the city’s lack of any appropriate veterinary services. (Exposure to stray dogs is approximated to be the cause of over 90% of all human exposures to rabies worldwide per the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
Rabies is a vaccine preventable viral disease, however, according to the WHO, more than 55,000 people each year die of rabies, with 30-50% being children under the age of 15. Most deaths due to rabies occur in countries with inadequate public health resources and limited access to preventative treatment. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system causing symptoms that include paralysis, hydrophobia, hallucinations, and encephalitis. Once clinical symptoms of rabies appear, the disease is inevitably fatal.
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Rabies Outbreak in Angola, Caused by Roaming Dogs, Kills 93 Childrenhttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/health/17glob.html?_r=1