Fatal, Yet Preventable
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
Rabies is considered as one of the most dangerous diseases in the world because the major carrier of rabies is the man’s best friend, through which it could be transmitted to us.
Also, the infected suffer immensely as the virus causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Once the virus reaches the spinal cord and brain, rabies is almost always fatal. Death is extremely agonising. Therefore, it is important to control the disease.
The responsibility of keeping this deadly disease under control is in the hands of the authorities as well as citizens. Knowing correct facts about the disease, vaccinating your dogs, vaccinating and sterilising/neutering stray dogs, and taking immediate action if you are bitten by an unknown dog or any mammal that could be a rabies carrier are important.
Raising awareness about this disease is highly important in the battle against rabies. This is why there is a special day dedicated to it. World Rabies Day is celebrated on 28 September every year with a specific theme.
This year’s theme is ‘Rabies; Facts, not Fear’, which will be focusing on sharing facts about rabies and dispelling myths or misconceptions. 28 September also marks the death anniversary of the French chemist and microbiologist who developed the first rabies vaccine, Louis Pasteur.
What is rabies?
According to rabies.gov.lk rabies is a zoonotic (transmitted to humans from animals) disease that causes acute encephalitis. It is caused by a virus. Rabies infects animals (domestic and wild) and is spread to people via infected saliva. Rabies is always fatal if post-exposure prophylaxis is not administered prior to the onset of severe signs and symptoms. Patients develop malaise, headache, and fever as early symptoms of rabies and later develop violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, hydrophobia, and finally, death due to respiratory failure.
Rabies is no doubt dangerous. Yet, fearing rabies merely based on misconceptions and myths will not help fight the disease. Therefore, it is important to know facts, unlearn myths and take precautions. We need to know facts to make decisions, prepare plans and to make people aware of the danger of the disease if we are to eradicate this deadly disease.
The rabiesalliance.org explains that the word ‘fear’ has three meanings in 2021’s theme, which are; 1. The general fear caused by rabies. 2.The fear people experience when encountering rabid animals (relates directly to the symptom of fear that people may experience when infected with rabies). 3.The fear that people who live within communities plagued by rabies have (this relates to the fear caused by ‘fake news’ or myths about rabies, making people afraid of vaccination, making people afraid to get their animals sterilised or vaccinated, and making people believe in ineffective treatments for the disease).
Sri Lanka must eradicate rabies
The official website of Public Health Veterinary Services Sri Lanka states that 20 to 30 deaths occur annually in Sri Lanka due to rabies, and this is mainly due to exposure to infected dogs. They also recognise the main reasons for deaths in Sri Lanka are non-vaccination of dogs against rabies and not getting postexposure treatment.
It is also reported that if treated properly immediately after an infected animal bite it is 100 per cent preventable and post-exposure vaccines and serum are freely available at Government Hospitals. In Sri Lanka, we know that rabies still continues to be a health hazard due to poor vaccination programmes and poor knowledge about the disease. The main solution to stop the spread of rabies in Sri Lanka is to conduct vaccination programmes for street dogs islandwide and control the dog population through sterilisation and neutering.
Considering the geographical size of the country, and the fact that this is an island, it is not impossible to eradicate this disease from the island. The other easiest and successful way is to control the dog population, not through mass culling, but through sterilisation and neutering. Talking about this, myths and misconceptions caused by blind faith and religions act as a hindrance in controlling the rising population of homeless dogs in Sri Lanka.
Due to these myths, many do not sterilise or neuter their dogs, and once they are pregnant or deliver pups, they are dumped them somewhere else, or when the male dogs are restless during mating season, the owners allow them to go out. This results in them roaming all over the place, crossing with stray female dogs. Such irresponsible behaviour of dog owners directly impacts the battle against rabies in a negative way. It is also the responsibility of animal welfare groups and individuals to make sure the dogs and cats they take care of are vaccinated against rabies.
The Public Health Veterinary Services Sri Lanka, which is working towards preventing rabies in Sri Lanka, emphasises the importance of being a responsible pet owner and they say that annual rabies vaccination of all dogs above six weeks is recommended by Sri Lankan rabies control authorities.
The official website of the Public Health Veterinary Services Sri Lanka says that, according to a 2009 study, over 85 percent of animal rabies was reported among dogs. Rabies was confirmed in 58 per cent of dog heads examined. Although rabies is fatal, it is a disease that can be completely eradicated and prevented if correct precautions are taken.
(Information courtesy rabies.gov.lk)