Background Rabies is a fatal encephalitis caused by lyssaviruses, with most human cases worldwide resulting from rabid dog bites. Although effective animal and human vaccines have been available for over 100 years, control efforts have not been adequately implemented on the global scale and rabies remains one of the greatest global zoonotic threats to human health. We conducted a knowledge, attitudes and practices survey in Northern Cameroon to describe dog ownership characteristics, rates of dog bites, and post-bite healthcare seeking behaviors. Methods The survey was performed in four rural Cameroonian communities. A structured community-based questionnaire was conducted over a 20-day period in April 2010, and focused on socio-economic factors correlated with gaps in rabies knowledge. Information pertaining to socio-demographics, as well as attitudes and practices with regard to animal bites and bite treatment practices were recorded. Characteristics of dog ownership such as dog confinement, resources provided to dogs, and dog vaccination status were examined. Human to dog ratios were compared on a linear scale to poverty scores by community. When applicable, 2-tailed Chi-square tests or Fisher’s exact tests were calculated to determine relationships between variables. We also used One-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) to identify associations between rabies knowledge and wealth with dog ownership, dog vaccination, and human healthcare seeking behaviors. Independent variables were evaluated using multivariate logistic regression analysis. Results A total of 208 households were enrolled. Respondents were predominantly male (68.3%), with a median age of 43.6 years. Eighty-four households (39.9%) reported owning a total of 141 dogs (human dog ratio 10.4:1). The majority of dogs (61%) were allowed to roam freely. A history of rabies vaccination was reported for 30.8% of owned dogs. Respondents reported 11 bites during the two years preceding the survey (annual bite incidence was 2.6% [95% CI 1.4%– 4.6%]). Only one person (9.1%) received rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and none described symptoms of clinical illness consistent with rabies. Respondents who indicated that they would seek medical care and PEP after a dog bite had higher average wealth and rabies knowledge index scores (p = 0.01 and 0.04, respectively). Respondents who indicated that they would seek care from a traditional healer had significantly lower wealth scores, but not significantly different knowledge scores (p < 0.01 and p = 0.49, respectively). Conclusions In the communities evaluated, the majority of dogs were allowed to roam freely and had no history of rabies vaccination; factors that favor enzootic transmission of canine rabies virus. We also identified a strong relationship between poverty and dog ownership. Bite events were relatively common among respondents, and very few victims reported utilizing health services to treat wounds. Increased wealth and knowledge were significantly associated with increased likelihood that a respondent would seek medical care and post-exposure prophylaxis. These findings indicate the need for educational outreach to raise awareness of dog rabies and proper prevention measures.
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