Today, September 28, is World Rabies Day. According to the Centers for Disease Control, rabies causes 55,000 deaths annually around the world.
Two Wistar vaccines have played a pivotal role in preventing rabies infections, which are almost always fatal. One vaccine protects people bitten by a rabid animal, and when given promptly as part of post-exposure treatment, it is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing infection. The vaccine is also given to those at high risk of exposure, including veterinarians and wildlife officers. The second vaccine prevents rabies in wildlife and has been used in raccoons and coyotes to protect not only the animals but also, indirectly, neighboring human populations.
Three Wistar researchers developed the human vaccine in the 1960s and 70s: Tadeusz Wiktor, V.M.D.; former institute director Hilary Koprowski, M.D., now professor laureate; and Stanley A. Plotkin, M.D., now professor emeritus. Louis Pasteur administered the first human rabies vaccine in the late 1800s; however, vaccines used through the first half of the 20th century were extremely painful, caused side effects, and were not always effective. The Wistar vaccine prompted a stronger immune response while causing fewer side effects and less pain. Today, it is widely used in the United States, Western Europe, and other areas.
Vaccinating wildlife is important to controlling rabies; more than 90 percent of rabies cases in U.S. animals occur in wildlife. Wistar scientists William H. Wunner, Ph.D., Peter J. Curtis, Ph.D., and Charles E. Rupprecht, D.V.M., Ph.D., collaborated to develop a wildlife vaccine delivered by oral bait. First approved in 1995 to prevent raccoon rabies, it is now also used to stop infections in Texas coyotes along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Wistar researchers are working to develop a human vaccine suited for the developing world, where most rabies deaths, primarily children, still die from rabies each year.
For more information, visit The World Rabies Day Education Bank for rabies prevention resources collected from all around the world. These materials are specifically designed for veterinarians, clinicians, humane organizations, teachers, children, healthcare workers and pet owners.
[In the image: The rabies virus.]