Teachers have been recruited as the latest weapon in the fight against rabies, in a further bid to get to grips with the deadly outbreak that has killed at least 105 Balinese since it broke out undetected on the Bukit in South Bali in 2008.
The official toll counts only people confirmed to have died of the disease, which is invariably fatal once symptoms appear, or the several unexplained that occurred around Ungasan in late 2008 before rabies was declared present in November that year.
Udayana University veterinary school virology professor I Gusti Ngurah Mahhardika told 210 elementary school teachers from Badung, Tabanan and Karangasem at a meeting on Monday that continuous education on methods for preventing rabies would play a more important role in eradicating the disease because it involved communities at all age levels.
Mahardika said rabies, a disease of the central nervous system, could be prevented from developing to symptom stage if people knew how to handle it properly.
A full post-exposure vaccination course administered properly and in time is virtually a 100-percent guarantee of protection.
The teachers were taking part in a one-day rabies prevention seminar funded by UNICEF and jointly held by the school of animal husbandry and the Centre for Human Resource Development and Applied Technology (CREATE).
Vaccinations for both animals and humans were important, yet education and public awareness were needed to alert people to the dangers of the disease and how to cope with it as early as possible.
“Most people, especially those living in remote rural areas, do not have any knowledge on how to take care of dog bites in simple, effective and inexpensive ways,” said Mahardika, who is also chairman of the Bali Rabies Prevention and Eradication Campaign.
When a dog bites a child or an adult, his or her family members should immediately wash the open wound with soap and clean running water for at least 10 minutes. After the wound has been cleaned it should be treated with disinfectant liquid prior to further medical treatment at a local community health centre.
Experts say rabies — thought to have been introduced by a single infected dog from either Flores or Sulawesi — had spread so rapidly in Bali because thousands of dogs are kept, many of them informally, as part of families.
Because of uncontrolled breeding, thousands of other dogs roam freely in almost all villages on the island.
A doctor told the teachers at the seminar that it was hard to convince people to keep their dogs at home and to vaccinate their pets regularly.
At the seminar every participant received a guide book on how to deal with dog bites and how to treat them properly.
Bali Health Office sanitation and infectious disease department head Subrata lamented that most people who had died of rabies (he cited a figure of 100 out of 109) had not sought proper preventive treatment.
“They did not get first-aid treatment or anti-rabies vaccines for their dog bite wounds,” Subrata said.
Most dog bite cases happen in remote areas distant from local community health centres and lack of understanding of the rabies prevention programme had led to an increase in rabies cases in the island’s nine districts.
The Bali government now says its initial anti-rabies programme — comprising dog culls and human vaccination costing — was a failure.
The government spent Rp38.5 billion (US$4.3 million) on human and animal anti-rabies vaccines.
In September a foreign-funded mass dog vaccination campaign was commenced following protests from local animal welfare groups and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, based in Britain, that stray dogs were being culled unnecessarily.
The provincial government had set a target of late 2012 to declare Bali rabies free. It is now saying it will be 2013.