Background: In canine rabies endemic countries the World Health Organization recommends post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) be initiated immediately after exposure to an animal suspected to have rabies. Limited capacity in low and middle income countries to assess biting animals for rabies may result in the over prescription of rabies biologics. Few guidelines exist to determine the risk of whether a dog that has bitten someone is rabid. Given PEP cost and access limitations in many countries, accurate and timely assessment of dogs that have bitten people may reduce unwarranted PEP use and improve healthcare seeking behaviors. Methods: Haiti’s animal rabies surveillance program utilizes veterinary professionals to conduct rabies assessments on reported biting dogs and records characteristics of the dog, health outcomes, and laboratory results in a national database. Characteristics of rabid dogs were assessed through a retrospective cohort study of biting dogs investigated during the period from January 2013–December 2015. 1409 biting dogs were analyzed; 1361 dogs that were determined to not have rabies were compared to 48 laboratory-confirmed rabid dogs. Rate ratios, sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive values, negative predictive values, likelihood ratios, quarantine survival of biting dogs, and a risk matrix were developed. Findings: The assessor’s determination that the animal likely had rabies was the most significant predictive factor for a rabid dog (RR = 413.4, 95% CI 57.33–2985, Sn = 79.17, Sp = 91.92). Clinical factors significantly associated with rabid dogs included hypersalivation, paralysis, and lethargy (RR = 31.2, 19.7, 15.4, respectively). Rabid dogs were 23.2 times more likely to be found dead at the time of the investigation compared to case negative dogs (95% CI 14.0–38.6). Rabid dogs were also significantly more likely to lack a history of rabies vaccination or be unowned (RR = 10.3 95% CI 2.5–42.3 and RR = 4.5 95% CI 2.0–10.1, respectively). Rabid dogs were four times more likely to have bitten multiple people (RR = 4.0 95% CI 1.9–8.3). Most rabid dogs died or were killed before quarantine (75%) and all died by day 3 of quarantine, compared to <1% of quarantined case-negatives. The greatest risk of death was predicted to be for persons bitten on the head or neck from symptomatic dogs. Bites from dogs deemed healthy by veterinary assessors and which were available for quarantine presented less than a 0.05% risk of rabies death to the victim. Conclusions: Vaccination of all persons exposed to a suspected rabid dog is a highly effective approach to minimize human rabies deaths. However, this may place undue financial burden on bite victims that have had a low-risk exposure and over-prescription may contribute to regional supply shortages. The results here indicate that in a low-resource country such as Haiti, a well-trained veterinary assessor can provide an accurate risk assessment of biting dogs based on a standard case investigation protocol. In canine rabies endemic countries with limited access to PEP, or where PEP costs may cause undue burden on bite victims, structured risk assessments by trained professionals may be a reliable method of triaging PEP for bite victims. Evaluating rabies risk through a matrix of bite location and risk factor in the dog presents a clear delineation of high and low risk encounters and should be used to develop data-derived PEP recommendations.
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