Preventing Rabies

World Rabies Day falls on September 28th.


By Randima Attygalle

Rabies which is caused by a virus and is a disease transmitted to humans from animals – a zoonotic disease to give it its scientific name. Rabies can infect both domestic and wild animals alike including jackals and bandicoots and humans contract the disease through animal saliva. Although 100% preventable, rabies still remains a significant health problem in many regions of the world. Globally nearly 55,000 die of rabies each year and the majority of these deaths occur in Asia and Africa. With the objective of addressing the phenomena of rabies which is fatal yet preventable, the first World Rabies Campaign took place in 2007 in form of a partnership between the Alliance for Rabies Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA, with the assistance of the WHO and several other forums committed to human and animal welfare. Since the first World Rabies Campaign, many have been adopted by various forums in preventing rabies and creating awareness about the disease.

Vaccinating pets

"The incidence of human rabies is quite high in the Asian and African region and annually nearly 31,000 people die of rabies transmitted by dogs in Asia. Sri Lanka’s national efforts in addressing the issue since early 70s have reflected very positively by bringing down the number of human rabies deaths from 377 in 1973 to 58 by 2009," explained Dr. P.A.L. Harischandra, Director, Public Health Veterinary Services, Ministry of Health. As he points out, the disease is 100% preventable in both humans and animals and in Sri Lanka majority of human deaths result from rabies-infected dog bites. Non-vaccination of dogs against rabies and failure to administer post-exposure treatments are identified as the chief causes of such deaths he explained.

Vaccinating domestic pet dogs can largely prevent rabies. "Vaccinating the dogs at six weeks, three months, six months and annually thereafter is vital to prevent rabies. Very often pets are not kept by the owners in a responsible manner. Sometimes pet dogs are abandoned and these animals pose a threat to anyone who comes into contact with them," Dr. Harischandra pointed out. Public Health Veterinary Services Unit of the Ministry of Health has spearheaded many preventive strategies for rabies control in the country which include awareness campaigns on responsible dog/pet ownership, vaccination of all groups of dogs, mass animal birth control programmes to reduce the number of most susceptible stray dogs and habitat control which includes clearance of garbage dumps which attract dogs.

National Programme for

rabies control

The successful achievement of the objectives of the National Programme for Rabies Control in Sri Lanka is reflected in the decrease of human deaths caused by rabies. Decentralization of rabies control activities under the provincial councils, mass vaccinations programmes, introduction of auto vaccinator enabling the vaccination of stray dogs at a distance and stray dog vaccinations with parenteral rabies vaccines and surgical sterilization to minimize proliferation of the dog population are notable among them.

As Harischandra points out, seeking proper treatment is paramount in the event of an infected animal bite. "In case of an animal bite, washing the bitten area with flowing water and soap and seeking medical advice is paramount. Post exposure vaccine and serum are available at government hospitals and seeking proper medical advice is essential without adhering to ad hoc treatment," he said.

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