Basseterre — Dr. Charles Rupprecht, an internationally recognized expert on rabies and one of the founders of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), has joined the faculty of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) as a professor of epidemiology and public health.
Dr. Rupprecht, former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s rabies program, has spent much of his professional life studying the transmission, evolution and effects of rabies, a deadly virus that can be transmitted from animals to humans. The GARC estimates that more than 55,000 people worldwide – half of them children – die from rabies each year. Approximately 90 percent of human cases of rabies are caused by a bite from an infected dog.
“Rabies is real. Once symptoms of the rabies virus are evident, nearly every case is fatal,” Dr. Rupprecht said. “Only a handful of affected people have survived the disease in its 4,000 year history.”
Through a partnership between RUSVM and GARC, Dr. Rupprecht intends continue work on global canine rabies prevention and study the dynamics of rabies in the Caribbean by focusing on how the region’s increasing mongoose population might contribute to the spread and evolution of the disease. He also hopes to attract collaborators, through GARC, to extend research opportunities for RUSVM’s faculty and students.
“St. Kitts is considered a rabies-free island, but we know that rabies is present on at least four Caribbean islands – it’s a priority disease in this area,” Dr. Rupprecht said. “We need to understand why rabies is present on some islands but not others. Our findings will help inform planning to prevent the spread of rabies to other islands and mitigate the effects if it is introduced.” Because Caribbean islands have relatively contained populations, they provide an ideal controlled environment for studies that may inform research in other larger countries.
Dr. Rupprecht brings strong scientific credentials to RUSVM’s research mission. He received his bachelor’s degree in ecology from Rutgers University; his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in zoology and biological sciences from the University of Wisconsin and his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
He was instrumental in the creation of the only oral rabies vaccine licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in wildlife. This vaccine has prevented rabies in wild raccoons from spreading west of the Appalachian Mountains, and has also eliminated rabies outbreaks in coyotes along the U.S. border with Mexico and controlled rabies among grey foxes in the Southwestern U.S.
Dr. Rupprecht will also oversee one of RUSVM’s new research centers. The Center for Conservation Medicine and Ecosystem Health will be one of four centers focused on driving RUSVM’s mission to provide students with a research-informed educational experience.
“The addition of a world-class researcher of Dr. Rupprecht’s caliber will significantly strengthen one of RUSVM’s priority areas—public health education, extending knowledge within the Caribbean region and beyond,” said RUSVM Dean Dr. Elaine Watson. “His contributions in combating the deadly disease, rabies, have had a far-reaching effect on control of this fatal virus worldwide, and we fully support his future endeavors in this important area of research and education.”