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RABIES has spread rapidly, albeit silently, in many provinces of Thailand, with 271 confirmed cases of infection in animals nationwide as of yesterday – just 55 days into the New Year.
This number already surpasses the total number of rabies cases in the entire year of 2014.
According to real-time rabies infection statistics reported at Thairabies.net, the rabies outbreak is most serious in the Lower North Eastern Region, while dogs were the most common animals to be infected.
It was reported that Roi Et has the highest rabies infection rate in the country, with 65 cases so far this year – almost three times the number of cases in Surin, which had the second highest number of rabies infections, 24.
The Eastern provinces of Chon Buri and Prachinburi and Southern province of Songkhla also had relatively high numbers of rabies cases.
The Livestock Development Department’s Disease Control and Veterinary Services Bureau director, Wiriya Kaewthong, said the major rabies outbreak was caused by the breakdown of herd immunity due to the lower rate of rabies vaccinations in 2014 and 2015. This reduced the overall rabies immunisation rate in the dog and cat populations to below 80 per cent.
“The collapse of herd immunity significantly increased the infection rate among the unimmunised animals and we started to notice an increase of rabies cases since 2016. But it is during these recent months that the rabies infection rate has sharply risen,” Wiriya said.
He said the major reason for the lower rabies vaccination rate four years ago was a vaccine shortage due to a procurement problem.
However, he insisted that this problem had been solved and the authorities currently had enough rabies vaccine.
“Although we no longer have a problem with vaccine availability, there are still many factors that contribute to the spreading of rabies, such as the lack of awareness among dog owners who often neglect to immunise their pets,” Wiriya said.
“Stray dogs are also a big problem, as many of these dogs have no one to take care of them, vaccinate them, and control their population.”
Therefore, he said, the Livestock Development Department has asked local authorities to survey and register stray dogs and cats in their locality, and dispatch local volunteers and veterinary teams to vaccinate and sterilise the stray dogs.
As a short-term measure to deter outbreaks of rabies, the department has asked the Local Administration Department to implement a 5-kilometre radius quarantine zone in areas found to be infected.
Dogs are not allowed to leave or enter the quarantine zone unless officers give their permission. Animals suspected of being infected will be quarantined for at least six months, and all cats and dogs within the zone will have to be vaccinated.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease and it can infect many species of mammals, including humans. Domesticated dogs contribute up to 99 per cent of all rabies transmissions to humans.
WHO said rabies is almost always fatal following the onset of clinical symptoms, so the best prevention methods are to vaccinate dogs and avoid dog bites.
Dr Sopon Iamsirithawon, the Disease Control Department’s Vector Borne Diseases Bureau director, said a total of 14 people had died from rabies last year, with one death already this year. He said people should be concerned about rabies and learn how to protect themselves.
“There is still the misunderstanding among the public that rabies can be cured, but actually once the patient shows symptoms, it is already too late and death is guaranteed,” Sophon said.
He said the rabies virus normally has an incubation period within humans of between one and three months. Anybody who is bitten by an infected animal should clean the wound and find a doctor to get the vaccine as soon as possible.