According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rabies virus leads to an estimated 59,000 human deaths globally each year. This deadly viral disease, which is transmitted by animal bites, is almost 100 percent fatal once symptoms appear. That dire survival rate has led the medical community to ask, “How can we prevent rabies cases long before they happen?” Now, researchers in Japan may have developed a new, more simple rabies test for dogs, which could help prevent devastating rabies cases around the world.
The Importance of Preventing Rabies in Dogs
As mentioned above, rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms are allowed to set in. Fortunately, there are several treatment measures to fend off the virus, including a post-bite rabies vaccine, an immediate wound treatment protocol, and the administration of immunoglobulin. However, individuals in remote or underserved areas may not have access to this kind of immediate treatment. Ultimately, treating the problem at its source—infected animals—is the best way to improve overall rabies control. But how can the medical community prevent animals from becoming infected when global rabies vaccination programs have proven difficult to maintain? According to new research from Oita University in Japan, simplifying rabies testing for dogs could be the answer.
Developing a More Simple Rabies Test for Dogs
As explained in Nature, the standard rabies test for animals involves sampling a deceased animal’s brain and examining the sample under a microscope. Unfortunately, that test is limited to trained experts with access to special facilities. And while another technique exists—a technique that involves using lateral flow devices (LFDs) to detect rabies in brain tissue samples—it isn’t always accurate. But now, the Oita researchers may have developed a solution: a more simple rabies test that combines LFDs with a relatively simple technique called straw sampling.
What Is Straw Sampling for Rabies?
Straw sampling involves collecting brain samples by inserting a plastic pipette or straw into a round opening at the base of the deceased animal’s skull. To compare the LFD straw sampling method against the standard, more complicated rabies test, the team collected samples from the brains of 97 rabies-suspected animals. The researchers concluded that LFD with straw sampling offered “97-percent sensitivity” and “100-percent specificity” in detecting rabies, Nature reports. Not only is the test quick, offering time savings to practitioners, but also it doesn’t require technical equipment or a laboratory.
Implications for Data
Now, the Oita team is collecting performance data in a number of areas with varying “resource availability.” This could be the key to determining the true efficacy of the test in underserved areas with limited medical resources. Additionally, the research team has developed a data-sharing system alongside the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Animal Industry to share information on confirmed rabid animals. “This not only makes rabies diagnosis possible anywhere, but it also helps to visualize where, and to what extent, rabies is prevalent so that the data can be used for policymakers to secure a budget for dog vaccinations,” noted Nobuo Saito, an associate professor at Oita University.
Rabies is an urgent public health concern, especially in areas with limited access to medical resources. Fortunately, a focus on simpler rabies testing for dogs could help strengthen the global approach to eradicating rabies once and for all.
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