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Rabies: Vet recommends vaccinating dogs in northern states

 | July 20, 2017

Dr Devan Arumugam says there is also a need to tighten country's borders to prevent people bringing in infected animals from neighbouring countries where rabies is endemic.



PETALING JAYA: A veterinarian says the authorities should focus on vaccinating dogs, especially strays in the northern states, rather than resort to short-term measures in the wake of a rabies outbreak in Kuala Sepetang, Perak.

Dr Devan Arumugam said rabies outbreaks were now mostly concentrated in the northern region, which was why efforts to control rabies should be focused there.

Aside from compulsory vaccination, Devan also spoke on the need to tighten the country’s borders given that rabies is endemic in neighbouring countries.

It was recently reported that the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) had culled 48 stray dogs within a one-kilometre radius from where a rabid dog had bitten two girls in the coastal town of Kuala Sepetang.

Five samples taken from several culled dogs tested negative for rabies. Authorities also vaccinated all pets within the same area.

Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, animal control authorities in Penang said they would stop dogs and cats from being brought into the state from Perak.

Penang exco Dr Afif Bahardin said the DVS would set up preventive roadblocks at the state boundary in Seberang Perai.

But Devan said culling or preventing the movement of dogs and cats into another state may not produce the desired effect.

He said it had been proven that culling did not help exterminate the threat of rabies, while there was also no concrete evidence that stopping animals from moving around the state would help.

“In the long run, vaccination is the best way forward, especially the vaccination of dogs because they have been the main carriers.

“This is why the all local councils in the northern states should make it compulsory for all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies, and work with the DVS, NGOs and pet owners to realise this.”

Devan said as a rule of thumb, in epidemiology, vaccinating 70% of a population from any disease will see the formation of an “invisible shield” against the disease, whether in humans or animals.

“So if a rabid dog bites a vaccinated dog, that dog won’t contract rabies, and the infected dog will just die a natural death.”

Devan said he understood that not many countries would want to invest in vaccinating stray dogs only to release them again, but that the authorities should do so in the interest of the public.

In Penang, some 5,927 licensed dogs in Seberang Perai and 798 on the island have been vaccinated. There are an estimated 10,000 dogs in Penang.

Penang’s last rabies outbreak saw the DVS culling over 2,000 strays. The last reported case was in Balik Pulau on Sept 21, 2015.

Devan also spoke on the importance of tightening the country’s borders to prevent people from bringing in animals that may be infected.

He said according to reports, the rabid dog in the Kuala Sepetang incident was believed to have been bitten by another dog brought into the country on a boat by foreigners.

“And the northern states, where rabies outbreaks are concentrated, are close to the Thai border. Rabies is endemic in Thailand.”

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), rabies is also endemic in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

“In my view, the sporadic outbreaks of rabies in the north is a symptom of people bringing infected animals into the country illegally,” Devan said.

He added that proper surveillance programmes were needed to monitor the stray dog and cat population.

“Right now, there’s no real way for us to know what the situation is with strays dogs and cats, not just in terms of rabies but also other infectious diseases.”

Following the outbreak in Kuala Sepetang, the Perak government declared the Matang sub-district a “rabies-infected area” as a proactive measure to control the spread of the disease.

Penang bans dogs, cats from rabies-hit Perak


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