As the world marks World Rabies Day on September 28, Mission Rabies Cambodia has issued a reminder to the public of the dangers of the deadly virus.

A successful vaccination campaign earlier this year gave close to 75,000 dogs in Phnom Penh and Kandal Province a crucial advantage in the battle against rabies.

This campaign, coordinated by the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production, Mission Rabies, Animal Rescue Cambodia and several local partners, represented Cambodia’s most significant effort yet to quash the spread of the deadly virus.

Amy Lewis, international project manager for Mission Rabies, expressed her profound gratitude to all of the participants.

“Rabies is a cruel and deadly disease. Stopping it relies upon working together towards a rabies free future,” she said.

“Thanks to the incredible support of our partners, veterinary colleges, and volunteers, we achieved 70 per cent coverage of the dog population,” she added.

This campaign was rolled out from May 22 to June 2, with over 550 people taking part.

Among the participants were more than 250 Cambodian veterinary students from the Royal University of Agriculture and Prek Leap National Institute of Agriculture, and 90 international volunteers, who journeyed from many different countries to join the critical campaign.

Lewis explained that achieving herd immunity is key to extinguishing the disease at its source. She also extended her thanks to the responsible dog owners who took part in the process.

Rabies claims the lives of approximately 810 Cambodian residents each year, meaning the Kingdom has one of the world’s highest rabies death rates per capita, according to Mission Rabies, a project initiated by the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS).

“This lethal virus predominantly spreads through infected dog bites. It is estimated that 600,000 people in Cambodia suffer dog bites annually, but not everyone can access post-bite treatment,” said a statement from the organisation.

Research underscores that large-scale canine vaccination initiatives are the most potent means of slowing the spread of the virus.

“On this World Rabies Day, we issue a fervent call to the people of Cambodia to remain vigilant against this menacing threat,” said the statement.

“While our vaccination crusade marked a momentous stride towards rabies control in Cambodia, it is merely the outset of a protracted battle,” it added.

Indications of rabies in dogs and other mammals include aggression, altered vocalisations, erratic movements and excessive salivation.

Once rabies symptoms manifest, the disease is invariably fatal, underscoring the urgency of immediate action.

In the event of a dog bite, Mission Rabies advises washing the wound thoroughly with soap and running water for 15 minutes, applying antiseptic without covering the wound, and swiftly seeking medical attention for a full course of post-exposure injections.

Animal Rescue Cambodia (ARC), a local Cambodian NGO established by Martina Mayr, a dedicated shelter medicine professional from Germany in 2016, is focused on creating lasting animal welfare in Cambodia.

Its mission centres on alleviating the suffering of Cambodian cats and dogs, and it has already positively impacted over 115,000 animals and the communities they call home.

Mayr highlighted the importance of reporting rabies cases year-round.

“The annual vaccination drives are paramount in safeguarding lives, but it is equally critical to report any suspected rabies incidents throughout the year,” she said.

“This not only saves lives but also aids in tracking the disease’s spread. Dial +855 10804176 to report sightings or bites and receive the information you need to keep your community secure,” she added.

In addition to its work in the Kingdom, Mission Rabies undertakes campaigns in Malawi, India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Mozambique and Thailand.

Since its inception, over two million dogs have been vaccinated worldwide, and more than six million children have received education about rabies worldwide.

Its next mass vaccination drive in Cambodia is slated for late 2024, with volunteers already being sought.