More Questions than Answers

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report about half of the world’s population lives in areas where rabies is prevalent. Annually, about 50,000 people succumbed to the infection in these countries.

The recent outbreak of rabies virus in dogs in the northern states of Perlis, Kedah and Penang have taken many by surprise. Malaysian veterinary authorities are known for their stringent border surveillance and quarantine procedures.

There have been reports of rabies infection in stray dogs in Perlis and Kedah before but the authorities have managed to stop its spread remarkably well.

There is a buffer between Malaysian and the Thai border to prevent the spread of rabies into the country. If the rabies infection originated from Thailand it should have been detected at the source.

If the infection is from Thailand how come the authorities were unable to detect it? If our borders are that porous, as claimed by the deputy director general of the department of veterinary service, then we should have many outbreaks, not only in Perlis and Kedah, but in Kelantan too. If we can confine the infection to the northern states for over 40 years how come we failed now?

I am disappointed that our much-vaunted border veterinary zoonotic disease surveillance system is not up to scratch. I hope the authorities concerned will take note of this and take remedial actions. They should not take the easy way out by culling strays on account of the outbreak. Rabies is not only spread by dogs. Cats are known to carry a highly infectious and dangerous zoonotic parasite referred to as  toxoplasmosis that can cause pregnant mothers to abort. Do we kill stray cats as well?

We are bent on creating unnecessary fear in the public on the sudden rabies outbreak to a point that some pet owners are now beginning to abandon their pets.

World Health Organisation has recommended that the vaccination of pet dogs, including strays, is the best approach in tackling the rabies problem. I appeal to the authorities to work closely with the animal-welfare groups rather than killing the poor creatures.

Been an animal lover it saddens me to see hundreds of stray dogs being killed when there is not one case of human death so far. This warrants a thorough re-examination of the kind rabies diagnosis tests being conducted by our labs.

Have the authorities followed the standard WHO laboratory rabies-testing protocols before confirming it is rabies? Experts are puzzled as to why, despite the fact that more than 30 people who have been bitten by suspected rabies-infected dogs, not one has come down with the disease? It raises doubts as to the validity of the rabies test conducted locally.

During the peak of the Nipah disease outbreak several years ago, blood tests were conducted on several dogs kept in an animal shelter. Some of the dogs were found to be positive for the Nipah virus. A decision was made to cull those with Nipah virus. It was later found that it was not Nipah virus but another harmless virus that shared similar genes to the Nipah virus.

The authorities should consider WHO’s recommendation to immunise stray dogs instead of putting them to sleep. They should also review the border rabies surveillance programme, as it is obvious that lapses in the programme are the root cause of the outbreak.

The authorities should investigate how the disease spread to Penang so fast and why preventive actions failed. An investigation on the outbreak should also be conducted to ensure that it does not recur.

S. Param

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