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CONFIRMED cases of rabid dogs are cause for concern. Rabies, or hydrophobia, is a fatal disease, incurable once it has gotten hold of its victim whether human or animal. It is treatable only in the very early stages when the symptoms have not surfaced. Fortunately, those bitten by dogs, 39 cases in all in Perlis, Kedah and Penang to date have been treated and vaccinated and are now under observation. Ten of the 39 dogs were found to be rabid, meaning that a red alert should already be operational and an aggressive containment exercise underway. This is especially important given that the country had been declared rabies-free in 2012, that is, in the preceding 10 years no cases of rabies were reported. Sadly that has come to an end.

It cannot be over emphasised that this is a killer disease and there is no cure. So insidious is the Lyssavirus it cannot be allowed to enter the body. It causes acute inflammation of the brain in humans and other warm-blooded animals. If bitten by a dog, irrespective of whether it is rabid, the immediate thing to do is to wash the affected area with detergent thoroughly. And, if a rabid dog, commonly referred to as a “mad dog”, licks a person’s open wound, the area must be properly cleansed with a lot of water and soap. Simple enough, and then to hurry along to the doctor for a vaccination. The downside is that the incubation period in humans — normally between two and 12 weeks — can stretch further to more than a year before symptoms appear, ending in paralysis. As mentioned above, once it takes hold there can be no turning back. Death is inevitable.

Therefore, while the outcry against the move to cull stray dogs is empathised with, once the disease is confirmed there is little in the way of containment, other than to humanely put down the suspected transmitters. The irony is that confirmation of infection comes only after death through tests on the brain tissue. Indeed, all the strays can be rounded up and then vaccinated, but there is just not enough vaccine to go round given the number of stray dogs; not to mention the expense. For, bottom line, all the stray dogs and pets on the peninsula must be vaccinated.

To cry foul, therefore, is to not properly examine the problem. Even in countries like the United Kingdom, an island nation where the disease has long been eradicated, the procedures are rigorous and includes putting down the suspect animals once tracked. For, one does not kid around with a killer even when it comes in the form of the family’s pet. In the UK a rabies alert means that all pet dogs must be muzzled; man’s best friend or not. And if tracked to strays and wild animals, elimination of infecting source is inevitable because rabies is predictably fatal and the diseased animal is irrationally aggressive hence the expression “mad dog”. It is then best to let the authorities handle the matter without interference. After all, should not priority be given to saving humans?

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