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Wellcome Image of the Month: World Rabies Day

21 Sep, 2012

What deadly disease results in symptoms including fever, hydrophobia, hallucinations and paralysis? Rabies, of course.

A viral infection targeting the brain and nervous system, rabies affects over 55,000 people worldwide every year. It infects domestic and wild animals and is spread to humans usually by a bite or scratch. Once the symptoms of rabies have developed, the condition is almost always fatal.

Rabies is present on almost all continents (except Antarctica) but most deaths occur in Africa and Asia, with half of all cases occurring in India alone. Despite its deadly prognosis, and the fact that there are no effective treatments for the disease, rabies is completely preventable, even after exposure to the virus.

The first vaccine was developed in 1885 by Louis Pasteur (above) and Émile Roux. It consisted of viral tissue samples taken from infected rabbits. Today, rabies vaccines are concentrated and purified in the lab using cell cultures and has been used to vaccinate millions of people around the world.

In the image, Pasteur is pictured with two dogs, representing his work on rabies. The palm and snake wrapped around a bowl symbolise Hygeia, daughter of the Greek God of Medicine, Aesculapius, and indicates an achievement in health and hygiene. On Pasteur’s left lapel is a red pin representing his Legion of Honour badge, the highest national decoration awarded to French citizens for outstanding achievements in life regardless of social, economic or hereditary backgrounds.

Friday 28th September – the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death – marks World Rabies Day. This annual event aims to raise awareness about the impact of human and animal rabies, how easily it can be prevented and how to eliminate the main global sources. Since the first World Rabies Day in 2007, events have taken place in 150 countries educating 182 million people and vaccinating 7.7 million animals worldwide.

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.

Image credit: Wellcome Library, London

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