Rabies: A Killer Disease Easily Controlled

By Danielle Davenport
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans (we call this a zoonotic disease) and infects both domestic and wild animals. It affects the central nervous system (brain, nerves, spinal cord) and in the late stages of the disease the virus moves into the salivary glands and saliva.

It is through exposure to the infected saliva that animals and humans contract rabies – through a bite from an infected animal, or an infected animal licking an open wound on a human or another animal.

Rabies is completely preventable in humans. Aside from people taking precautions and avoiding situations that may lead to them being bitten, those that have been bitten require a post-exposure rabies vaccination within 24 hours of receiving the bite. Those that fail to do so are at risk of developing the disease.

After an animal is bitten, the virus travels from the site of the bite to the spinal cord and the brain. This is considered the incubation period and can last from a few days to several years; however it typically last from three-12 weeks. Once the virus reaches the brain, it multiplies rapidly and then quickly passes into the saliva and an animal begins to show signs of the disease. The infected animal usually dies within seven days of developing symptoms.

Rabies is present on most continents but more than 95 percent of the world’s deaths from rabies occur in Asia and Africa. In both of these continents, dogs continue to be the main carriers of rabies, because they have large amounts of unvaccinated pets and stray dogs.

The World Health Organisation recommends that at least 70 percent of a country’s dog population must be vaccinated in order to break the cycle of the disease circle. This means that the only effective control of rabies in dogs is through immunization of a large proportion of the population over a period of several years in order to reduce the contact rate between rabid dogs and unvaccinated dogs to a level too low to sustain rabies transmission within the population.

On the flip side, when countries enlist in dog-culling programs, in an attempt to eradicate rabies, they fail. This is primarily because it is impossible for these countries to eradicate all unvaccinated dogs or to prevent the increase of the dog population through breeding.  Furthermore, humans contract rabies through exposure to rabid dogs, so even though the population may be reduced, it is still likely there will be rabid dogs present in the population.

The most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people is by eliminating rabies from dog populations through broad-scale vaccination programs and strict quarantine procedures for imported animals.

Controlling rabies is a public responsibility and it’s for the public good. Rabies is a relatively easily eliminated disease if it is managed in an effective manner.

The writer is a veterinary nurse in Ubud.

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