Associate Professor of Epidemiology
University of Pennsylvania
In Latin America, there has been tremendous progress towards eliminating canine rabies. Major components of rabies elimination programs leading to these successes have been constant and regular surveillance for rabid dogs and uninterrupted yearly mass dog vaccination campaigns. Unfortunately, vital measures to control COVID-19 have had the negative trade-off of jeopardizing these rabies elimination and prevention activities. We aimed to assess the effect of interrupting canine rabies surveillance and mass dog vaccination campaigns on rabies trends. We built a deterministic compartment model of dog rabies dynamics to create a conceptual framework for how different disruptions may affect rabies virus transmission. We parameterized the model for conditions found in Arequipa, Peru, a city with active rabies virus transmission. We examined our results over a range of plausible values for R0 (1.36-2.0). Also, we prospectively evaluated surveillance data during the pandemic to detect temporal changes. Our model suggests that a decrease in canine vaccination coverage as well as decreased surveillance could lead to a sharp rise in canine rabies within months. These results were consistent over all plausible values of R0. Surveillance data from late 2020 and early 2021 confirms that in Arequipa, Peru, rabies cases are on an increasing trajectory. The rising rabies trends in Arequipa, if indicative to the region as whole, suggest that the achievements made in Latin America towards the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies may be in jeopardy.