Make Rabies notifiable disease, says expert amid rising dog attacks in Kerala

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Rabies is fatal and there is one death every 10 minutes globally, which adds up to roughly over 50,000 deaths per year, according to noted Epidemiologist Dr Naresh Purohit here on Saturday.

True burden of rabies in India is not yet fully known; although as per available information, it causes 18,000-20,000 deaths every year in the country.

According to WHO rabies is endemic in India, which accounts for 36 per cent of the world’s rabies deaths.

“Amid mounting criticism of the Kerala Government to control the canine population and the fear of rabies transmission from dogs has prompted mass dog culling.

“However, research has shown that culling does not help reduce the number of deaths from dog bites,” the Visiting Professor at the Thrissur-based Kerala University of Health Sciences, School of Public Health said.

“In fact, it may prove detrimental to efforts being made to address rabies in the state. Indiscriminate dog culling does not stop rabies,” he said.

“The killing of rabid dogs was not permitted as according to the Animal Welfare Board of India guidelines, they are to be tied up and kept in isolation till they die on their own within 10 days of showing clinical signs of the disease,” he added.
Purohit said that eradicating rabies requires vaccination and sterilisation of dogs, but the political will for all this is largely missing.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) has emphasised the importance of vaccination and sterilisation, as the only proven and effective method for achieving zero-rabies deaths and controlling the stray population.

He revealed that the Indian dog population is as high as 25 million. But only 15 per cent of the dogs are vaccinated in the country.

He averred that human rabies is neglected because “it is a disease of the poor”.

“Making it a notifiable disease is the only way for it to be taken seriously rather than left as an issue for animal lovers, or those bitten by dogs, to worry about,” he opined.

“Once it becomes a notifiable disease, for which a law has to be passed, reporting cases will become mandatory. Any doctor or hospital that fails to report cases will be penalised. Making it notifiable will raise its profile hugely,” he said.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday said a state-wide mass vaccination campaign for vaccinating stray and pet dogs will take place from September 20 to October 20, and more animal birth control centres will be opened.

Vijayan also said that there have been 21 deaths due to rabies in the state so far this year.

Fifteen of them did not receive anti-rabies vaccine (IDRV) and immunoglobulin (ERIG). One was partially vaccinated and five were fully vaccinated.

A field-level investigation has been completed to ascertain the cause of all 21 deaths. An expert committee was appointed to investigate all the deaths in detail.

Advisor for the National Communicable Disease Control Programme, Purohit, averred that the blood of a vaccinated dog has all the antibodies to kill the virus.

“The blood of a vaccinated dog is a soldier. So that animal becomes a soldier in the fight against rabies, that is the simple message,” he said.

According to Kerala Medical Services Corporation, there has been a 57 per cent increase in the use of anti-rabies vaccine in 2021-2022 as compared to 2016-2017.

The use of Rabies Immunoglobulin has increased by 109 per cent during this period.

Since April this year, 2,00,000 domestic dogs have been vaccinated against rabies. Apart from this, 1.2 lakh rabies vaccinations were given to animals bitten by stray dogs. Six lakh doses of vaccine have been handed over to all veterinary hospitals.