HUMAN RABIES DEATHS ON THE RISE – PHVS

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In addition to the shortage of human -rabies vaccines, the Directorate of Public Health Veterinary Services (PHVS) lamented that the prevailing fuel shortage in the country had caused a setback in its rabies control work, to the extent that there was a slight increase in the number of human rabies deaths.

Director PHVS, Dr.  L.D. Kithsiri on 5 July lamented that the fuel crisis had created a dilemma for the Regional Directors of Health Services in sending out their rabies control teams for animal vaccinations. 

While in 2021 there were a total of 25 human rabies deaths, by the end of the first six months of this year there has been a total 14 deaths.

“A minor increase has been witnessed in the number of human rabies deaths which has caused concern for the programme as earlier we were able to have a control on rabies,” he said. 

He said even during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Sri Lanka had been able to maintain a fairly reasonable rabies control programme. But the current fuel shortage has resulted in a decrease in the number of animals being given the rabies shot while the number of rabies related human deaths have risen.  

The areas where human rabies deaths had been recorded included, Jaffna (four), Gampaha and Kalutara three deaths each, while Trincomalee, Kurunegala and Kegalle had one death each.

This year too there had been an incident of human rabies death which had been caused by a jackal bite.

“Although we may be unable to control such incidents that occur as a result of wild animal bites, we can control human rabies deaths that occur as a result of people being bitten by domestic animals.”

Dr.Kithsiri said the rabies control programme had been able to administer the rabies vaccine to at least an estimated 1.2million dogs per year. In 2019, the teams were able to give the rabies shot to two million canines. But this year we may not even be able to give the shot to the estimated 1.2 million of the estimated three million dog population in the country. 

He appealed to the public at this stage to strictly adhere to responsible pet ownership ensuring that their pets are given the rabies vaccine. Also the Directorate would be grateful to members of the public who could also ensure that the strays living in their community- enjoying status of being ’community dogs’ fed by it would also make sure that those dogs too were given the rabies vaccine. 

As it is “PHVS Directorate has enough stocks of the animal rabies vaccine. But we have to depend on the limited donation that Sri Lanka received from India of the human rabies vaccine. The State health service hospitals too have to depend on each other in case a shortage occurs of the human rabies vaccine,” he said.

BY Dilanthi Jayamanne