LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Investment in dog vaccination is the single most effective way of tackling canine rabies, but the lack of a concerted effort to wipe it out means that around 59,000 people every year, or 160 people each day, still die from the pernicious disease.

Countries that have invested most in dog vaccination are the ones where human deaths from the disease have been virtually eliminated, researchers said on Friday.

The virus, almost always transmitted by bites from rabid dogs, is almost 100 percent fatal but is one of the few diseases in which a person can be protected by a vaccine after being exposed.

Eliminating the disease would require a program of mass dog vaccinations as well as improving access to human vaccines, said the Global Alliance for Rabies Control which ran the study, the first to examine the impact of rabies across all countries.

"No one should die of rabies," said Professor Louis Nel, executive director of the alliance.

The greatest risk of canine rabies is overwhelmingly in the poorest countries, the study showed. While India has the highest number of fatalities, the death rate is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where for many the vaccine is prohibitively expensive.

Researchers said global investment in dog vaccination was "inadequate".

Annual economic losses due to the disease are around $8.6 billion, the study said, mostly because of early deaths, but also due to lost income and money spent on vaccines.

"An understanding of the actual burden helps us determine and advocate for the resources needed," said Professor Nel.

The research was led by Dr Katie Hampson of the University of Glasgow, who said the amount of data was "far greater than ever analyzed before".

(Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Ros Russell)