Rabies: Listening is not enough

Rabies is a deadly but preventable disease which still occurs in more than 150 countries all over the world. It poses a threat to humans and animals alike. We talked to Dr. Silvina Muñiz, Argentinian veterinarian and thought leader on rabies prevention, about holistic approaches to combat rabies and how the private sector can contribute. Read up on key insights she shares here!

Dr Muniz with a dog

Dr. Silvina Muñiz serves as president of the Argentinian association for pet veterinarians AVEACA (Asociación de Veterinarios Especializados en Animales de Compañía de Argentina). She has her own veterinary practice in Buenos Aires and is a speaker and advocate for rabies prevention.

As a veterinarian, what is your perspective on rabies?

Rabies is a devastating disease in many parts of this world; especially in Africa or Asia, but also the Americas and parts of Europe. In Argentina, bats pose a high risk of rabies transmission and there is a high percentage of unvaccinated pets. Vaccination is essential to eliminate the disease. 

We are living in complicated times – in our country and all over the world, actually. So it is very important to create awareness about prevention. Prevention of a disease like rabies may not be perceived as a priority right now, considering other important problems that we have today, but we need to draw attention to it, nevertheless. Fighting rabies saves lives.

This year's theme for World Rabies Day is "Rabies: Facts, not Fear". Are there any myths about rabies you would like to bust?

Yes! So, the first myth I want to tackle is this: not only dogs and cats may transmit rabies. Bats, monkeys, squirrels and other mammals may spread the disease, too.

Furthermore, some people believe that indoor pets do not need vaccination because they are not in contact with stray animals. That’s also a myth. Indoor pets may also be infected, for example through bats that commonly live in buildings.

In May of this year, Argentina reported its first human case of rabies since 2008. Which animals pose a risk of transmitting the virus in your country, and how can infection be prevented?

Dogs, cats and bats are one of the biggest sources of rabies infection in Argentina. Rabies can only be prevented by vaccination and education of the community. 

How do you leverage your position as president of a pet veterinary association, AVEACA, to raise awareness about rabies? And what can each veterinarian do to educate pet owners?

Dr Muniz in her practice with a large dog

AVEACA contributes to the fight against rabies with education and information about the relevance of the disease and prevention through vaccination. We often refer to international associations to understand their approach to the problem. We’re educating through social media as well. Veterinarians are currently the ones raising awareness about rabies among the general population. It’s a challenging task but we’ve seen some improvement in recent years thanks to a strengthened human-animal bond. 

Speaking as a veterinarian, how can the private sector, so companies like Boehringer Ingelheim, support you in fighting rabies? 

The role of companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim is crucial and they have a lot to offer. They have the tools to provide the materials that veterinarians need to educate pet owners. It is crucial that the pet owner or caregiver truly understands the problem, because just listening is not enough. The message that the vets are trying to convey often needs to be supported by visual aids. Those materials help to make the message easier to understand.

Education from an early age – as an integral part of education in schools – is something companies may support as well. In my opinion, to finally raise full awareness about rabies, the collaboration of not only companies and veterinarians but also of governments and families is required. 

Finally, we as veterinarians expect pharmaceutical companies to continue to develop high-quality vaccines and to invest in R&D. You never know what the next innovation may bring and the fight against rabies is not over.

Info hub: Sustainably fighting rabies
Animal Health: Our Responsibility

Info hub: Sustainably fighting rabies

Did you know that every nine minutes, rabies takes a human life? Find out how we support the elimination of this deadly disease.