Rabies: why dog owners need to take action.


by Akinlabi Bisola

Regarded as man’s loyal friend, dogs are the main source of human rabies death, contributing up to 99 percent of all rabies transmission to human as the disease could also be transmitted from animals like bats, foxes, coyotes, skinks and raccoons.

Being one of the neglected diseases, it remains a public health issue and place a serious burden on the health of Nigerians, Africans and the world as a whole as it is said to be present in all continents except Antarctica.

According to NCDC, rabies was first reported in Nigeria in 1912, and about 10,000 annual human cases reported in the country making the disease a persistent endemic problem.

Despite this figure, it is believed that the number cases would be more due to lack of record or underreporting, which is an issue that has eaten deep in all sectors of this nation and which has led to the disease being neglected by relevant health care facilities and poor assistance from international community and donor agencies.

Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease transmitted through the saliva of a rabid animal, the virus called Neutropic Lyssavirus is said to be transmitted following bite or scratch from an infected animal, contact with the mucous membranes or open wound could also lead to the spread of the virus.

Human to human transmission is very rare. The incubation period ranges from 5 days to several years usually 2-3 months, some researches confirmed a person could be infected for up to 6 years before the manifestation of signs and symptoms which depends on the amount of rabies viral antigen in the innoculum and the proximity of the viral entry to the central nervous system .

Non-bite exposure includes, inhalation of aerosolized rabies virus, contamination of abrasions(a type of wound on human body) ,open wounds, mucous membranes with rabies antigen laden saliva or with infectious materials.
The rabies virus spreads through nerve cells to the brain and spinal cord after which the infected person’s health starts to deteriorate rapidly. Fever, muscle weakness and tingling, burning of the site of the bite are some of the initial symptoms depending on the type of rabies.

People infected with Furious Rabies would display symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, excess salivation, problem swallowing, fear of water, other signs include, hyperactivity, excitability and display of erratic behavior .

The form of rabies that takes longer time to manifest but it’s effects are usually severe is called Paralytic rabies, infected people slowly become paralyzed, will eventually slip into coma and die. According to WHO, 30 percent of rabies are Paralytic .

The infection is said to cause tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in Asia and Africa. 95 percent of rabies caused death occur in Africa and Asia which is suspected to be due to various cultural beliefs about domestic dog which plays a vital role in the transmission of the disease.
Currently, there is no test to detect early stages of rabies infection.

It can only be done after the onset of symptoms which could be dangerous hence, preventive shots of rabies vaccination is given to stop infection before symptom’s onset, also the bite site should be treated by the doctor.

According To NCDC an estimated 10 million people receive post-exposure prophylaxis each year after being exposed to animals with suspected rabies.

Dog meat consumers, handlers and processors are some of the group of people that need to get vaccinated against this infection.

Dog owners should also vaccinate their dogs against rabies to prevent the spread of the disease as several researches have shown a low rate of vaccination of dogs against rabies in Nigeria and most African countries .

The endemicity if rabies virus has been confirmed as several researches carried out across the country have reported the presence of rabies viral antigen in brains of apparently healthy dogs slaughtered for human consumption .
According to WHO, world rabies day is celebrated annually on the 28th of September to raise awareness about rabies prevention and to highlight progress in defeating this horrifying disease and also mark the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death, the French chemist and microbiologist who with the help of his colleagues developed the first rabies vaccine.
The increasing number of dogs especially in the urban areas where we have more population calls for the need of annual vaccination of dogs against rabies as the poor control of rabies in animals makes it easy for the disease to be transmitted to human population.

Presence of stray dogs and absence of leash laws, lack of awareness about the severity of the disease, inadequate post-exposure anti rabies treatment could be some of the contributing factors to the incidence of the disease. A survey of human rabies in Nigeria in 1981, reported high incidence in low socio-economic or illetrate group in rural areas.

The NCDC reported an approximate of 55,000 people die each year from rabies which shows there is need for prompt action and collaborative effort of the Ministries of agriculture, health, environment and education .

Increase in the number of vaccinated dogs which could in turn improve herd immunity to a certain extent, increased awareness rate about the disease and what should be done when bitten, animals that appear healthy should be screened before being processed for consumption, availability of dog shelter to reduce the number of stray dogs on the street, humans working closely with rabid animals or in animal laboratory should also ensure the get vaccinated even if not bitten by an infected dog are some of the suggested solution as researchers have confirmed it to be more prevalent in developing countries which Nigeria is one.

Dog owners should endeavor to visit a vetenerian to get their dog vaccinated and also ensure proper leashing of their dog to avoid it attacking other people as this will also protect the population and it is the only way of interrupting possible transmission of the disease.

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