Cases of dogs biting humans have been increasing in Pemagatshel. This year, until July, the dzongkhag hospital saw 53 cases of dog bites. However, there haven’t been fatalities or rabies outbreak due to dog bites.
The dzongkhag veterinary officer (DVO) of Pemagatshel, Dr Narain Pokhrel, said dogs “attacking” humans is a cause of concern for the livestock sector too. He said his office has initiated measures to reduce the risks to animals and is working closely with the health sector to create awareness in schools. That will be followed by sterilisation campaigns, he added.
The clinical officer (CO) of Pemagatshel hospital, Rinchen Phuntsho, who is also the health sector’s focal person, said there has been a steady increase of dog bite cases in the dzongkhag since 2010. From 24 cases in 2010, the number rose to 59 in 2011. The number in 2012 increased to 71.
What makes the figures a cause of concern is that they are for Pemagatshel hospital alone and does not include data from 12 BHUs and five sub-posts. Pemagatshel hospital mostly deals with cases from places near the dzongkhag headquarters and Shumar Gewog.
“Since most of the dog bite victims are children, we decided to begin sensitisation programmes in schools where most of the stray dogs are and where most dog bites happen,” said Rinchen Phuntsho. “Sensitisation programmes become effective by using school children to reach out to their parents and communities at large on how best to prevent contracting rabies.”
Children and school authorities are made aware of what they can do at schools by taking simple yet effective measures like wound management before referring to the nearest health centre for vaccination and further treatment. The programme reminds people that no bite must go untreated.
Sensitisation programmes are conducted regularly to keep the stray dog population under control through catch neuter vaccinate and release (CNVR) programme funded by Humane Society International (HSI), a US-based NGO, in collaboration with the Department of Livestock.
“The programme is slated to come back again to conduct animal birth control,” said Dr Pokhrel. “Healthy stray population is also necessary to maintain biological balance in any environment but the HIS programme ensures that even these strays are sterilised and vaccinated against rabies.”
The HSI programme is currently in its second phase since 2012. In the first phase, 38,535 of the estimated 50,000 stray canines have been sterilised and vaccinated against rabies. To eliminate rabies from SAARC region by the year 2020, a project called SAARC Rabies Elimination Project will soon begin.
Scientific American magazine in its latest publication said, based on the discoveries and research findings in Peruvian Amazon basins, not all rabies are fatal. Many people were found to have contracted rabies from bats but have survived and developed immunity.
Animals like dogs, bats, foxes, and raccoons carry different strains of rabies virus. Those carried by bats and foxes are found to be weaker and some people’s immune system may be able to defeat the virus and develop specific immune system. Dogs, however, carry stronger strain of rabies. Canines, therefore, remain the most dangerous and largest group of virus carriers in the world.
According to WHO estimates, nearly 55,000 people die from rabies worldwide. Children comprise the largest bulk of victims because of lack of awareness and medical facilities for treatment. Medical interventions and treatments are not only complicated but also expensive. The only effective way to control rabies is by mass vaccination of stray and pet dogs.
According to some estimates, there are about 375 million stray dogs globally. The largest numbers of strays are reported to be in India and China, the two countries with the highest number of death due to rabies.
India and China are also the two leading countries that produce rabies vaccines.