Rabies introduced to Africa by Europeans 200 years ago?

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With 24,000 deaths each year, Africa is the second in line when it comes to continents affected by rabies, the first being Asia. A study by the Pasteur Institute in France recently provided a status report on this infection, which is mainly transmitted via dog bites, looking at the virus’s origin, evolution, genetic sequencing, among other factors.

In total, the researchers analysed rabies virus isolates collected over 29 years in 27 countries within the western and central African regions. The area was chosen because the overwhelming majority of cases on the African continent are found in these two regions alone.

The first observation the researchers made revealed that the emergence of the rabies virus coincides with the start of European colonisation and urbanisation, which was less than 200 years ago.

Their second observation indicates that the viral strains circulating in this particular region of the world entirely belong to one line known as “Africa 2”.

“Africa 2” lacks any strong capacity for dissemination, as can be seen from its inability to cross the barrier of the Sahara. Indeed, there is no dissemination of viruses between the countries of north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

These observations, according to the researchers, mean that a strategy aimed at gradually eliminating rabies in western and central Africa is completely feasible.

Every year, around the world, about 55,000 people fall victim to the rabies virus, albeit a vaccine that has been in existence since the end of the 19th century, developed by Louis Pasteur in 1885.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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