Beware! Rabies kills faster than AIDS

Rabies is one of the deadly diseases but, often overlooked. It is a highly fatal disease, known to kill 99.9 per cent of its victims once they begin to show the clinical signs.

United Nations figures put death toll from rabies at 59,000 annually. These deaths occur mainly in Africa and Asia (poor regions of the world), but the irony is that rabies is not only highly preventable, it can also be eradicated, and many countries of the world have been declared rabies free by a conscious effort of the government and relevant stakeholders.

According to veterinary experts, it is mainly contacted from dogs and other carrier animals like monkeys, skunks, raccoons and bats. Once a person is bitten, the incubation period of rabies in man can be between one to three months and may also be as much as one year, depending on the site of bite and the viral load at bite.

As seen in most cases, victim of rabies would take ill, until they begin to manifest cardinal signs of rabies, such as Pica, fever, seizures, paralysis, hydrophobia, jaw dropping with drooling of saliva, inability to swallow, change in tone or barking, then death becomes almost inevitable.

Chairman of the Lagos Chapter of Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Alao Mobolaji, told The Guardian that in the case of dog bite, the first step that should be taken by any victim is to immediately wash the bite site copiously with lots of water, after which the victim can apply either bleach or disinfectant to clean the wound site.

“The next thing is to find out if the dog was immunized against rabies. This is done by requesting for the vaccination certificate from the dog owner. Most anti-rabies vaccination covers the dog effectively for one year. If the vaccination falls within the year of coverage, the victim can go a step further to speak with the veterinary professional who administered the vaccination for authenticity. If after all these, the dog is adjudged to be immunized, then there is no cause for alarm.

“But if on the contrary, the immunization status of the dog is questionable, then the victim should go immediately to the nearest primary health care centre to immediately commence the post-exposure immunization, which is composed of five shots of vaccination, for days 0, 3, 7, 14, 21/28. These shots must be taken and completed. The treatment would cost between N30,000 to N35,000 and would last for 30 days (days 0,3,7,14,21/28). The doses must be taken completely to ensure adequate protection. It also important to note, that the earlier the victim commences the post-exposure immunization the better the chances of surviving the disease.”

As deadly as the disease is, it is unfortunate that very few laboratories in Nigeria have the equipment and capabilities to definitely diagnose rabies. According to Mobolaji, only few teaching hospitals, veterinary teaching hospitals in universities, and National veterinary research institute (NVRI) Jos, Plateau have the ability to diagnose rabies.

However, these days there are rapid immunodiagnostic test kits for rabies virus detection.”

He lamented that not all hospitals can treat rabies, because many of them, especially the private ones are not adequately informed about rabies treatment or management, reason why they oftentimes refer victims of dog bites to a veterinary clinic for “anti-rabies vaccination.”

“For this singular reason, our association embarks on a yearly advocacy programme to educate members of the public on how best to attend to rabies cases. We have also been advocating an increased collaboration between human medics and veterinarian under the ‘one world one health initiative’, to bridge the knowledge gap and invariably improve public health safety.”

Are there ways to identify dogs that carries rabies? Oftentimes it is difficult to identify a rabid dog, this is because the signs manifest in stages, but most times there are basic signs to tell if a dog is rabid. There are three basic stages a rabid dog undergoes. The first is the “dull stage”, this is the stage the affected dog suddenly becomes dull and uninterested in anything that goes on in its immediate surrounding, it just seats in one corner and looks on the whole day.

The second stage is the “furious stage” this is the stage when the affected dog becomes hyper active, fierce and furious. At this stage, the dog attacks everything within its reach -living and non-living objects and also attempts to bite at them. This stage is most often easily recognisable, during this stage people must stay away from such dog in this condition.

The last stage is the “paralytic stage” when the affected dog withdraws and becomes paralysed. Its jaw drops and it begins to drool saliva, becomes hydrophobic (fear of water) and ultimately dies. These stages last between nine days and eight weeks.

To avoid dog bite, Mobolaji said it is necessary for parents to educate their children on the need to be cautious when around strange dogs, especially male children and restrain them from playing with just any dog in the neighborhood, because they get excited when they see dogs and naturally want to play with them.

“Adults on the other hand, can avoid dog bite by also keeping away from strange dogs, they should not unnecessarily excite dogs they come in contact with. Necessary precautions should be taken when entering a house where dogs are kept for security purposes. Visitors should insist on owner first restraining their dogs before entering such premises. Also, dog owners that walk their dogs on the streets should ensure that such dogs are properly leashed, and trained enough to be able to obey basic commands while on such walk.

“It is the responsibility of every dog owner to ensure the periodic vaccination of their pets against rabies disease. Most rabies vaccination as we know protect for at least one year. It is also important that dog owners patronise qualified veterinary professionals for their dog vaccination as a number of quacks who pose as veterinarians end up rendering poor services that expose the dog owner, their family members and members of the public to unnecessary danger and needless losses. Our association has embarked on a project that will help members of the public via their smartphones authenticate the qualification of any one they seek for their service as a veterinarian. This we will be made available in the shortest time possible.”

He noted that dog owners can get their dogs immunized against rabies for as low as N3,000, which serves for a whole year, adding that if government provides vaccines at their clinics, it may even be cheaper. “I guess some families are so poor that they cannot afford the cost of the vaccines. My advice to such families is to avoid keeping dogs. While some people are not just aware that there is anything called vaccination for dogs, hence the need to increase awareness campaigns to ensure everybody knows what they need to know.
The chairman noted that the population of dogs, especially in a cosmopolitan environment like Lagos is rising exponentially.

He stressed that Lagos, which plays host to as many as 2.5 million dogs for various purposes ranging from companionship, security, breeding, among others, need to pay closer attention to these animals. He advised government to equip existing veterinary hospitals to enable them diagnose common viral disease such as rabies, improve the awareness campaign on the dangers and realities of rabies disease and to encourage the one world, one health initiative to increase collaboration between veterinarians and human medics and other relevant stakeholders.

“As zoonotic disease (diseases that can be transmitted from animal to man and vice versa) issues about rabies will only get more and more important in the days ahead. This is mainly because humans and animals are sharing increasing closer quarters. We would want to press upon our legislators to look into existing dog laws and other animal laws, as what we have presently does not address contemporary challenges. We believe a stitch in time saves nine.”

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