Nearly 60,000 people a year die from rabies around the world. The cause is almost always a bite by a rabid dog. Most of the deaths are in Africa and Asia. In Western Europe, the United States and other countries, the rabies variant that lives in populations of dogs has been eradicated, but people can still catch rabies from skunks, raccoons, bats and other animals.
Bats are now the most common cause of rabies in the United States, but less than one percent of bats have rabies, and their contact with humans is infrequent. Only one to three people die each year from rabies in the United States.
As a major public health problem rabies doesn’t measure up to other threats, like flu. It’s also relatively slight compared with other dangers posed by animal: Many more people — an estimated 40 in 2018 — die from dog attacks that have nothing to do with rabies.
The danger posed by rabies is greatest in poor regions of the world with large populations of free-roaming, unvaccinated dogs. Death by rabies is agonizing, and once symptoms appear, almost 100 percent certain.
Photo Credit: Atul Loke/The New York Times