Yemen is experiencing more than it’s share of problems in recent years and infectious diseases are among them, including rabies. The Yemeni Ministry of Health (MOH) reported that 12,000 people were bitten by stray dogs in 2016, resulting in 41 human rabies fatalities that were mostly children, according to a report (computer translated).

Yemen map/L'Américain
Yemen map/L’Américain

And according to early data in 2017, the human rabies toll continues with 13 reported during the first three months of the year.

Regions of the country most affected were Dhamar, Sana’a and Ibb province.

One distressing point is for the past year-and-a-half the country has been experiencing a severe shortage of the rabies vaccine with no response to their appeal from the local health authorities or international organizations.

Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes.

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptoms then progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually.

Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.