A large rabies outbreak continues in Moscow.  There were 257 rabies cases reported in the area in 2009 – ten times the number from previous years, and well above the very low numbers that occurred for a decade of so after an aggressive control program to control the post-World War II rabies epidemic. Control of that outbreak mainly involved shooting of potential rabies vectors: stray dogs, foxes and raccoon dogs. 

Various more humane but still aggressive control measures are being considered to help control the current epidemic, including banning movement of pets to suburban cottages (probably better to just vaccinate the pets first), canceling a dog show (pretty low yield – better to vaccinate), and mass immunization of wild and domestic animals (the key approach).

An aggressive approach makes sense. Rabies is almost invariably fatal and large numbers of people who are exposed require post-exposure treatment every year.  Local wildlife population patterns, wildlife rabies hotbeds and rates, pet numbers, pet movement and vaccination must all be considered when determining the best approach to control. Apparently, about 30 000 pet dogs visit cottages in the Moscow area each weekend, and there’s concern that they could bring rabies back to the city with them. Authorities have warned about traffic jams that might develop, presumably from police stopping traffic looking for contraband canines. However, instead of banning dog movement, it would likely be more effective to increase vaccination (or even mandate it for dogs in those high risk regions) and control roaming dogs. If a dog doesn’t roam freely in the country, it’s less likely to encounter a rabid animal. If it’s vaccinated, it’s unlikely to get infected if it does get exposed. If it’s not allowed to roam when it returns to the city, it’s less likely to spread rabies to other animals and people in the very rare event that it was exposed and infected. Furthermore, if wildlife are vaccinated through rabies bait drops, the chances that a roaming dog will be exposed get even lower.

Ensuring the highest possible canine vaccination rates is the key measure. Whether that’s through mandating vaccination, providing it at low cost, or making it more convenient for owners to get it done, it’s a great place to focus efforts and resources. In principle, it’s a simple concept. In practice, it can be more difficult, especially when compliance of the general public is required.

For those of you that want to practice your Russian reading skills, here’s the original story.