UPDATE: Penang will start a month-long vaccination of 10,000 dogs (including strays) from today, 16 Oct. The federal government and the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) sponsored 5,000 doses of vaccine each.
The big news these past few days, aside from the haze, is RABIES.
Penang, Perlis and Kedah have been declared outbreak zones and now, even Sarawak is on high alert, although other states are safe for the moment. That was after people got bitten by dogs in the 3 states. GOOD news is, no one died and none show symptoms of infection either. BAD news is, 10 out those 39 dogs tested positive for rabies. Worse still, Bernama reports that the figure might be HIGHER after the Veterinary Services Department tested more dogs.
With all this going on, the states have begun culling stray dogs to contain rabies – a move that’s unpopular with animal lovers. (BTW, ‘culling’ means to selectively slaughter.) But despite coming under heavy fire from NGOs, Penang’s Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said he’s willing to lose votes to keep people safe. Animal lover or not, you gotta admit that’s an admirable statement. Before we go on, we need to tell you about the seriousness of the rabies disease…
It has NO DIAGNOSIS and NO CURE!
Here’s how the virus travels in the host, starting from the bite infection:
It spreads to humans when they come in contact with the infected animal’s saliva – from bites, scratches or licks at an opening…even the eyes, nose and mouth! It rarely spreads human-to-human, though there’ve been cases recorded through transplant surgery!
2 types of the disease can develop. Both are polar opposites, though equally scary and zombie-like:
Rabies causes about 26,000-55,000 deaths worldwide per year – 95% deaths occur in Asia and Africa.
It has NO diagnosis. It can only be diagnosed once the victim has developed the disease and shows symptoms. By then too late aldy coz…
There’s NO CURE and survival is rare. Death will most certainly be the outcome. The only thing you can do is to prevent it by vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention US, LESS than 10 cases of human survival have ever been recorded in the history of the disease.
In 2004, there was 1 case where a teenaged girl survived after doctors administered an experimental treatment on her called the ‘Milwaukee protocol’. Doctors have tried it 26 times since her case…to no avail.
However, the moment after a person is bitten, there is a window opportunity to prevent rabies. That would be to get vaccine jabs IMMEDIATELY. The aim is to stop it from entering the nervous system. A doctor from India said in the case of rabies, it is better to overtreat than undertreat.
We found this video documenting what happens to a patient with rabies.
Viewer discretion is advised. Death is depicted. Also, this CILISOS article might get a wee bit more serious beyond this point.
Well, we hope the graphics kept you awake during that Biology lesson. But the main thing is, the severity of rabies is indisputable. It’s not kutu. It can KILL.
Knowing this now, what is the BEST way to control this situation for the good of the rakyat?
1. Kill ALL the dogs
Well, we thought we’d get the most serious one out of the way first. Do know that with 80% of CILISOS staff as dog owners, we don’t take this point lightly. Oh, and before you start protesting, the animal lovers kinda already beat you to it.
Actually people have split into 2 camps, some for, some against. Here’s the animal lovers’ side of the story – a number of animal NGOs have mobilised themselves into a group called Stop Killing, Start Vaccinating. They’ve not only held protests, they’ve also submitted a memorandum to the Penang state government to stop the culling. (BTW, here’s an article from BBC explaining what culling is about and why it’s done.)
NGOs argue that culling can have a reverse effect and speed up the spread of the disease:
“Dogs have territories, and when threatened by catchers, they run into other territories. This will cause dogs to be aggressive when they come into contact with dogs not from their pack. This causes the spread of rabies.” – Lim Li Lian, committee member of Stop Killing, Start Vaccinating, TMI
It would also be interesting to note that, there have only been reports of protests in happening in Penang so far, not Perlis or Kedah. Incidentally, Penang is an island…how da heck did rabies get across?? Hmm, maybe bats.
Anyways, more than 900 dogs have been culled in all 3 states, and counting. In tackling the issue, it looks like the governments mean serious business and they’ve swung into action with super efficiency, deploying 200 Vet Dept personnels to do the deed.
As for the authorities’ side of the story, Lim Guan Eng and other states are not backing down on the culling order.
“The professionals managed to convince me, so that was why I signed the order. I cannot put the lives of 1.6 million people at risk.” – Lim Guan Eng
At least something the Penang Director of the Vet Dept said put our minds at ease. They use tranquilisers on the dogs before putting them to sleep by injection. “The first shot sedates the canine. The second shot goes in 10 minutes later when the dog is thoroughly tranquilised. Death takes place in less than a minute. It is painless,” veterinarian K. Pavabakaran explained.
But perhaps there are better alternatives….
2. Kill ALL the humans
Actually, there’s an argument for this, but ya… we think this one would make Guan Eng even more unpopular 😛
3. VACCINATE all dogs
Ideally, vaccinating all stray dogs would be a great option! That’s what NGOs are advocating, coz World Health Organization (WHO) supports mass vaccination too. However, WHO did highlight the difficulties – it would require exhaustive work, like educating people, intersectoral cooperation, community participation, etc. The question is, does the state government have the resources to carry out such a measure? Is the community also willing to pitch in and help? At least Penang offered vaccination and registration licences at RM45. Kill 2 birds with 1 stone mah. Kedah offered for FREE! So owners have been flocking to clinics to get their pets jabbed.
But the problem now are the strays. The Vet Dept has vaccinated 2,286 dogs as of Sunday. In Perlis, a total of 465 dogs have been vaccinated, Kedah 1,648 and Penang 173. Then in the midst of developments, 2 international NGOs Mission Rabies and Worldwide Veterinary Services have stepped up to settle the strays with 50,000 free rabies shots. Out of those tho, samples from 40 dogs had shown signs of rabies.
Malay Mail Online reported that Guan Eng asked those NGOs to convince the Vet Dept and the Health Ministry first. Are the authorities are taking the ‘lazy’ way out? Well, we can’t put words into their mouths, but we can understand that logically, culling would be the fastest and surest way, coz every minute that a rabid dog is out on the streets, it is potentially increasing the risk of someone getting bitten.
And last we checked, 59 people have ALREADY BEEN BITTEN (Perlis – 27, Kedah – 12 and Penang – 20)! Considering the almost 100% fatality rate, we reckon this is not something to be taken lightly.
4. Vaccinate all the humans
Woi in all that concern for the doggies, let’s not forget the homo sapiens.
Penang Health Committee Chairman Dr. Afif Bahardin advised especially those with closer contact to animals, like shelter workers, to get jabs. OMG the price to vaccinate hoomans is so much more EXPENSIVE. Each person will need 3 jabs which would cost RM1,500 total. This one not available in gomen hospitals.
If you’re a parent, you bring your babies to the hospital to get their shots. If not also you’ll prolly remember getting BCG jab when you were Standard 6. Does anyone remember getting jabbed for rabies? Nope. That’s coz rabies vaccine is NOT one of the mandatory injections in Malaysia. But as you know, vaccines only work as prevention, not cure. If you terkena infected already, it’s too late to vaccinate.
Bottom line is, this one VERY hard to say who’s right or wrong
We can all agree that once a human gets infected, that’s it already (they don’t call it the ‘mad dog disease’ for no reason). Based on that alone, we should take this disease more seriously. At the same time, we understand the heartbreak animal lovers must be going through.
How about how other countries deal with rabies?
- India (HIGHEST rate of human rabies in the world): Surprisingly, even though it accounts more than one-third of the world’s rabid death, culling dogs is not allowed in India on humanitarian grounds. Instead, they mass vaccinate.
- Vietnam (2nd highest): They eat the dogs. Just kidding. They actually STOP eating the dogs. Apparently, thorough cooking should inactivate the virus, but it’s not advisable to eat it anyway. But the truth is, Vietnam practices culling.
- Thailand (3rd highest): Culling is unpopular in Thailand. They sterilise instead.
So what else can we do?
At the end of the day, the best solution is always prevention. The countries with the highest incidences of rabies are also the countries with the highest number of stray dogs.… which is why we should…
If you REALLY want to prevent culling of dogs, then you might also want to consider adopting a stray? PAWS and SPCA are always looking for donations – for adoptions and spaying. Please click here to donate.
But here’s the shocker. Even THEY can’t keep up with the number of dogs being brought to them so THEY ALSO HAVE TO CULL DOGS on a regular basis. It’s already happening regardless of whether rabies is around or not – and caring deeply or complaining on Facebook won’t really help.
We feel sad that the dogs are being put to sleep, we do. But as the symptoms can take a while to surface in animals – less than 1 week to 1 year – it’s surely not something the authorities wanna take a gamble on, while strays prowl the streets, right? The state authorities are just trying to do what’s best for the people, and in that process, it’s impossible to please everyone. As Guan Eng said:
“The people can criticise all they want on the issue. But when something bad happens or people die, the one answerable is the state government, not the NGOs.” – Guan Eng on FMT