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Vampire bat rabies kills hundreds of cows a year as it spreads across Peru

It’s thought that raising awareness of the disease could reduce the cost associated with vampire bat rabies.

AFTER YEARS OF stories that the vampire bat was the causing the spread of rabies throughout Latin America, research has indicated that in Peru, over 500 cattle a year die of the disease passed on by the creature.

Vampire bat-transmitted rabies can be transmitted to both humans and livestock – but the extent of its reach has been largely anecdotal up until now.

Rabies is among the most important diseases for human and animal health in Latin America. The common vampire bat is the main source and the main prevention methods are culling of bats and vaccination of humans and livestock.

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The research studied questionnaires on livestock health and the knowledge farmers in 40 communities had of the disease, as well as passive national surveillance data on 11 years of vampire bat rabies outbreaks.

Their models calculated that there are 4.6 cases of vampire bat rabies per reported case, leading to between 505 and 724 cattle deaths in 2014 in the study area and costing €103,445 - €146,074.

Together, animal mortality costs combined with vaccination costs totaled the equivalent of €254,793 per year, representing a major loss for impoverished farming communities that rely on livestock for subsistence.

The study also showed that the perceived risk of rabies in an area greatly affected both reporting of cattle mortality and vaccination coverage, suggesting that campaigns to increase awareness could reduce the vampire bat rabies burden.

“This estimate, at least four times higher than official reports, is essential in planning and implementing cost-effective measures to prevent and control the disease, which mainly affects low-income, small-scale farmers,” the researchers say.

Our results further suggest that increasing the risk perception of communities that are far from reporting offices could both increase reporting and reduce cattle losses by encouraging preventative vaccination in high risk areas.

The new study, which also detailed risk factors, appears in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

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