Thursday, August 18

Rabies, two years on

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KUCHING: Since the first rabies casualties were reported in July 2017, there have been 18 deaths caused by this deadly disease which reputedly has a 99 per cent mortality rate.

The outbreak has been declared a Level 2 Disaster in January this year to enable all government agencies to pool resources in a concerted effort to mobilise and contain the spread of the disease.

This meant that a statewide integrated rabies operation needed to be carried out involving various government agencies in phases starting March 1, to make sure that 100 per cent of dogs were vaccinated and for targeted removal of stray dogs (and cats).

The targeted removal of these animals or to be precise, to cull them, was at first not well received by animal lovers and groups representing animal rights, who initially slammed the way the personnel involved targeted the animals.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, said there was growing awareness among the people that such operations were for their own benefits.

He said the operations had concluded its fourth phase involving Serian and Simunjan districts last month (June), which had proceeded smoothly without any interruption or hindrance from individuals or organisations.

“They have also realised that rabies is a very dangerous disease which everyone must do their part in its prevention and eradication,” he said.

The operations carried out in Lundu, Bau, Padawan, Samarahan, Kuching, Serian and Simunjan now recorded the removal of 6,725 stray dogs and 61 cats.

Uggah, who is also Sarawak Disaster Management Committee chairman, said the fifth phase of the operation will be carried out from July 31 to Aug 4 for Sri Aman, Lubok Antu and Betong districts, as the government continues in its battle to stop rabies.

The target for both the Sarawak and federal governments now is to achieve zero neglected dogs and rabies-free among humans by the year 2022, and among animals by the year 2025.

Uggah said the state needed the cooperation of the people to achieve these targets, especially to ensure no more humans are infected by rabies.

He nonetheless expressed his concern that despite the frequent advice on how to treat oneself after being bitten by dogs in the newspapers, social media, leaflets and posters, there were still some people who were ignorant of such treatment and as such, resulted in rabies cases involving humans still being recorded.

“Treatment is very easy. First, wash the bite or scratch marks with soap and running water for 10 to 15 minutes. Second, go immediately to the nearest hospital or clinic to seek further treatment,” he advised.

Rabies was previously almost unheard of until July two years ago, when Sarawakians were shocked after news broke out that three young children in Serian, including two siblings, had died due to rabies.

Bitten by seemingly harmless but rabid dogs the previous month, the young victims had suffered symptoms such as seizures and hydrophobia before succumbing to the disease, triggering the authorities to declare a rabies outbreak in the state.

The siblings, aged four and six from Kampung Paon Sungai Rimu, were the first two fatalities of rabies after they died on July 4, 2017 following treatment at Sarawak General Hospital (SGH).

This was followed by the death of a third victim, aged seven, from Kampung Lebor in Serian on July 13 the same year.

Just four days after that, the fourth fatality was recorded involving a five-year-old victim from Kampung Ampungan, also in Serian.

Their deaths were heartbreaking and triggered outpouring of sympathy from all Sarawakians.

But rabies did not only infect children, nor was it limited to Serian alone.

Two years on, a total of 18 persons have died due to rabies. The 17th and 18th victims were a 26-year-old man from Batu Kawa and a 61-year-old woman from Pending who died on May 31 and June 12 this year.

Another victim, who is now nine years old, was infected in August 2017 and is now comatose and treated at home.

Following the outbreak, many steps have been taken by the state government including awareness programmes, mass vaccination for pets and opening of animal bite clinics for people to seek medical attention and to be vaccinated for suspected rabies infection after being bitten by animals.

The state government has also, as of June 24, gazetted 62 rabies-infected areas.

Serian division has the most with 22 rabies-infected areas, followed by Kuching (7), Miri (6), Sarikei (5), Samarahan (4), Sri Aman (4), Mukah (4), Bintulu (4), Betong (3), Sibu (2) and Kapit (1).

The declaration of a rabies-infected area comes after the virus has been detected in samples collected from dogs and other animals in the area and beyond the 10-kilometre radius of existing infected areas.

Under the regulation, those residing must ensure that their domesticated dogs (or other pets) are not brought out of the 10-kilometre radius of rabies-declared areas without a permit from the state veterinary authority.

Those who breach this regulation will face a fine of up to RM5,000 or a jail term of up to three years, or both, if convicted, which are provided for under Section 37(2) and (3) of the Veterinary Public Health Ordinance 1999.

Other strategies include maintaining an immune belt along the Sarawak-West Kalimantan border where the rabies is believed to have spread from.

Uggah, who was contacted on Monday (July 1), pointed out that rabies continues to be a public health problem in the Philippines.

Quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Department of Health, he said the Philippines is one of the top 10 countries in the world with rabies problem.

“WHO said the disease is responsible for the deaths of 200 to 300 Philippine people per year,” he said, when asked to compare Sarawak and other countries on how long it takes to tackle the disease.

He also provided a bit of lesson on the history of rabies in China.

“Rabies was highly endemic in all provinces in China until the 1980s where more than 5,200 human deaths were recorded annually from 1987 to 1989.

“There were about 3,500 deaths in 1990 and only 200 in 1995. This was followed by a decade of increased incidence, which peaked in 2007 with 3,300 deaths,” he said, adding that rabies in China reduced to 2,000 cases in 2011.

Currently, most of the human rabies cases are reported in the southeastern part of China, he added.

On a more positive note, Uggah said the number of rabies-positive animal cases had dropped drastically in Serian, where the epidemic began.

He said that this was very positive news and hoped for the trend to continue.

“With cooperation from everyone including dog and cat owners, we can eliminate rabies.”

See also:

All for the love of dogs https://www.theborneopost.com/2019/07/04/all-for-the-love-of-dogs/

Animal welfare group proposes for house-to-house vaccination to continue  https://www.theborneopost.com/2019/07/04/animal-welfare-g…tion-to-continue/

SSPCA: Dog microchipping soon to track owners https://www.theborneopost.com/2019/07/04/sspca-dog-microc…-to-track-owners/

Coping with grief in the aftermath of rabies https://www.theborneopost.com/2019/07/03/coping-with-grie…ermath-of-rabies/