I spoke to a former senior officer of the Penang Veterinary Department about the rabies cases in Penang and these are the notes from my conversation with him:
Rabies is a serious issue. The last major incident on the mainland was around 1978 while Penang Island has been rabies free for a long time.
Endemic area: Border area with Thailand. Possible causes of current situation: infected dogs brought in from across the border or dogs running in.
In the present situation, dogs have been tested and a number of people have been bitten in the northern region.
The disease can spread easily.
According to him, the best solution to immediately stop the spread the of the disease:
- Cull all strays in surrounding areas, which could be a radius of several kilometres
- Vaccinate all dogs owned by owners and get them tagged.
“It is wrong to say we are waiting for the victims to show signs of the diseases – because by the time the victim shows signs of the disease (incubation period is around 8-10 weeks), it will be too late and there is only a slim chance of the patient being saved.
“So you are not going to wait for the patient to show signs. Anyone bitten should be immediately referred to hospital for the necessary jabs.”
The dogs are put down and their heads are then sent to an institute in Ipoh for testing.
In other countries, which are rabies free, there are strict controls or prohibitions on the import of dogs.
“Penang Island can be kept rabies-free by the vaccination of strays. But check points must be set up at all entry points to the island to prevent dogs from the mainland being brought to the island.”
This is what the WHO has to say about controlling rabies under normal circumstances:
Controlling rabies in dogs: what to do – what to avoid doing?
Further to recent reports indicating that indiscriminate mass culling of dogs is still used in certain countries as the principal measure to combat dog rabies and prevent associated human rabies the WHO wishes to reiterate the recommendations of the Expert Consultation on Rabies held in Geneva, October 2004 (TRS 931, WHO 2005):
- Dog destruction alone is not effective in rabies control. There is no evidence that removal of dogs alone has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities or the spread of rabies. In addition, dog removal may be unacceptable to local communities. However, the targeted and humane removal of unvaccinated, ownerless dogs may be effective when used as a supplementary measure to mass vaccination.
- Mass canine vaccination campaigns have been the most effective measure for controlling canine rabies. High vaccination coverage (70% or higher) can be attained through comprehensive strategies consisting among others of well-designed educational campaigns, intersectoral cooperation, community participation, local commitment in planning and execution.
- Surveillance of rabies is the basis for any programme of rabies control. Veterinary surveillance of rabies and laboratory submission of reports of suspected animal cases is also essential for management of potential human exposures and for veterinarians to adopt appropriate measures towards animals in contact with a suspected animal case.
- Efforts should be made to fully incorporate rabies control activities in all levels of the health services, aligning them with other public health programmes such as the Expanded programme on immunization and those for tuberculosis and vector-borne diseases. In this manner, synergies between programmes improve logistical use of human, material and financial resources.
My comment: I know there are a lot of animal-lovers and groups out there concerned about the culling, and I am one of them, and it is heart-breaking seeing so many of them caught to be put down. Any thoughts or statements by animal welfare groups on alternative measures to culling? Please share below.